When I’m confronted with a problem, I immediately come up with a solution. That makes me feel good. I feel like I’m smart. In order to amplify that good feeling, I implement that solution as soon as possible. That feels even better.
“I’m not only smart, but I’m also a doer.”
Nothing feels as good as achievement. As you complete a few cycles of coming up with quick solutions, implementing them as soon as possible, and getting rewarded with good feelings of achievement, you get addicted to this cycle. You want to repeat that cycle as much as possible.
The good feelings of achievement is geometrically inversely proportional to the time it takes to implement the solution. The quicker the solution, the greater the feelings of achievement.
Is this post about boasting about myself?
No. On the contrary. I’m trying to find the motivation for a dysfunctional behavior. Yes, quick fixes are dysfunctional behavior, because they produce greater problems down the road.
“The solutions of yesterday are the problems of today.”
I’m not the only one. It’s human nature to be attracted to quick and dirty fixes. We get drawn to quick fixes not only in our jobs, but also in our private lives, in our relationships, and even in politics and international relationships.
The Psychology of Problem Solving
Quick fixes don’t require any mental energy. They happen on auto-pilot. They are our knee jerk reactions to the problems we face. And we all have the conscious or unconscious belief that “if I came up with an idea, it must be a brilliant idea.”
Reflecting on a problem, finding its causes, and coming up with a real solution require a lot of mental energy. These activities don’t come natural to us. We evolved them later in our 4.5 billion years of evolution. They are almost registered as pain.
The principle that guides all human behavior is that we avoid pain and seek pleasure. Quick fixes are pleasurable and ideal solutions are painful. That’s why we are drawn to quick fixes and avoid ideal solutions.
When it comes to problem solving, choosing the painful option in the short term results in much less pain in the long term.
Two Steps to Solve a Problem
My academic and industry experience has taught me two steps to solve a problem. The first step is to determine the root cause of a problem, which I have explained in detail in a previous post. The second step is to ask myself the following question:
“What would be the ideal solution of this problem?”
When I worked as a researcher in academia, we tried to solve a problem with exact methods that produced mathematically proven optimal solutions, i.e. the ideal solution. If those attempts failed, only then, we turned to approximation methods, which produced good results, but not guaranteed optimums.
That ideal solution does not need to be practical. It doesn’t even need to be feasible. I just want to come up with the theoretically ideal solution that someone with infinite resources could implement. As you can imagine, this not only applies to software development or engineering, this applies to any area of life.
Once I have the ideal solution, I can either go ahead and implement it or compromise it to the level it is practical to implement. In either case, the ideal solution is a great guide. It’s a goal to strive toward. It’s like a north star that shows you the direction you need to go towards.
Without an ideal solution, you are lost. You are running around in circles like a headless chicken. You are repeating the same mistakes over and over.
Favoring ideal solutions over quick fixes is counter-intuitive, but it benefits your personal life as well as your professional life. In order to develop sustainable businesses, managers need to stop demanding and rewarding quick fixes and ask for ideal solutions from their employees.
You can apply the ideal solution concept in your private life as well. The first step to do that is to write your own obituary now. Don’t wait for someone to write it after your death. That will help you find your direction in life. And from there, you can reverse engineer your life to live the best possible life you can.