Why Discarding Solutions Can Lead to Better Problem-Solving

Imagine this: You’ve solved a difficult problem in an important area of your daily life. Is it time to celebrate? Of course.

However: Is it time to stop looking for a solution?

I’d like you to consider that the answer to that question may actually be ‘no’.

Why?

Have you ever wondered why so many of the greatest discoveries were made by accident?

Gunpowder, penicillin, electromagnetism, vaccination, x-rays, insulin – the list goes on. All discovered by chance. Of course, the true genius behind these discoveries was in realising that something unusual and potentially useful was going on.

On an everyday level, if you think this type of ‘happy accident’ is extremely rare, think again. It’s so common we even have a word for it – ‘serendipity’.

The real question here is: Why did it take an accident to make these discoveries?

One answer is that it’s part of our psychology. There is an effect known as ‘disconfirmation bias‘ which distorts our perception. Basically, we tend to criticise evidence that does not fit with our existing beliefs – we are biased against it and explain it away or ignore it. So it’s hard for us to see the difficulties with our existing theories until the evidence is overwhelming.

So the biggest obstacle to finding a good solution is finding an adequate one first.

deciding too soon
If we have found a solution and it’s the best one we can think of at the time, we tend to stop looking. The sense of closure and relief we can get from solving a problem can be seductive. Relatively few people will put aside a workable solution and
postpone the relief and comfort of closure to look deeper for an even better solution.

Creativity of this sort requires us to act against our natural instincts and think more thoroughly, for longer.

It’s rewarding to arrive at a quick and ready solution to everyday problems – but at what cost overall? Taking a little longer to get a better result will give gradual and steady improvements (the Japanese call this Kaizen). Those benefits add up quickly over a relatively short time. The result is a significant change without great upheaval.

So next time you find a quick and ready solution, put it aside and keep going. It’s likely there’s something even better just around the corner. And this habit will pay dividends.

Why Discarding Solutions Can Lead to Better Problem-Solving by

One Reply to “Why Discarding Solutions Can Lead to Better Problem-Solving”

  1. AnnMaria

    The same is true of writing , whether a program, a book or an article. More often than not when I’m half-way through I’ll realize I could do better, tear it up and start over. Painful as it is to give up all that work and start from square 1 I’m always glad I did

    Reply

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