One problem, one reason, and one solution

I listened to another great episode from the knowledge project. This one was with Sanjay Baskhi. He is an economics professor and apparently someone prominent in value investing.

In one part of the episode they were discussing multidisciplinary thinking, and the following part stuck with me.

When you are trying to evaluate something you are trying to ask the question why, why did this happen? and when you reflect upon it, you find that the answer sometimes comes from multiple disciplines and you get down to that and try to figure it out. It is very enjoyable to do it in that way.

The process for me has always been to ask the question why and wait because the mind will tend to jump to a certain answer, and that’s not the only answer so you know the way I think about it is when there is a complex question which I am trying to answer I always start with the words “part of the reason is this” and which means that there must be other parts too and I like to think about what those parts could be.

They don’t have to be twenty of them. Even if there are three or four of them, that is better than one so it helps me ask the question why and then look for answers.

They way I have always been educated is that there is only one problem, one reason, and one solution. When I started to explore how complex is the world, how many problems may arise, and how most of the time there is no one size fits all solution, it made me to some extent not comfortable around people who think otherwise.

The first thing I did is changing one phrase everyone is Egypt repeats “the problem is” to “one of the problems is”. In reality, most of the time there isn’t one problem. There are multiple problems leading to the problematic situation one sees.

Another thing I started doing, whenever someone asks me a question about why or what could be done, I used to answer by saying “there are X solutions”, then I start articulating them. I found that most of the time, while I am articulating these answers, I discover more answers, and hence I decided to replace “there are X solutions” to “there are multiple/few solutions”, then I start articulating them one by one.

Last week I was discussing a bug with my team, and I said “the worst that could happen” then I caught myself saying that so I corrected myself saying “well, it is not the worst, there could be much worse things that we are not aware of”, because we are humans, and humans are bad at predicting the worst outcomes.

That’s why Sanjay’s “part of the reason is” stuck with me. It is another great way to open one’s mind and think deeply about reasons. I completely agree that when we change the way we answer, it makes us change the way we think, and discover new areas undiscovered before.

It is rarely one problem, one reason, and one solution.