Problem solving can range from figuring out where to put your new TV to researching what diet is best for you. We all do some problem solving everyday. Some problems are more complicated than others and some problems seem simple, but are actually complicated in disguise.
There’s a common principle stating that the more complicated a problem is, the higher the probability of something going wrong in solving it, would be. This becomes an even bigger issue when we are faced with seemingly simple problems that are actually complicated.
Word of Mouth
The most popular and worst way to solve a problem is to just ask someone and believe what they say. It’s the easiest way and people love to go the half-assed route. The problem with asking your buddy, who recently lost weight for advice is that their method may be sub optimal or just flat out wrong.
How can that be? Your friend could have just ate less and did some running, so you try the same and lose weight. What’s really happening is that you’re losing a lot of muscle along with your fat. That alone is unhealthy. On top of that, restricting energy intake when your body needs it most will leave you tired and weak for the rest of the day.
This could have all been avoided if you just did some research on the physiological effects of certain macronutrients, muscular activity and energy expenditure. Instead, you decided to listen to your friend and just run off with that idea. The same can be said about which car to buy, what supermarket to shop at and what to say to the girl you have a crush on.
The internet is another death trap when it comes to the “word-of-mouth” trap. Random assholes and shady blogs usually publish articles on cars, health, electronics, etc. To be fair, some of these blogs actually have references to how they came to the conclusion they did (which you should look over). Most blogs however, don’t have references or reliable references so it’s just like listening to your friend and blindly believing them all over again.
Even those who are seemingly experts in a specific field should be cross referenced with another source or at least another expert, just to be sure
The Belief Engine (A=B)
This is another half assed problem solving trap a lot of people fall into. The belief engine, put in the simplest terms is just guessing. That’s all it is. So many of us are guilty of this and most of the time it’s completely and easily avoidable.
Let’s say you’re going to best buy to look for a new computer. You look around and find a year-to-date model that’s slightly more expensive than the rest. Your belief engine starts to turn and it goes something like this “A: It’s more expensive and newer so it must = B: better performance than the other”. This over simplified way of thinking can be extremely problematic because there are so many other variables other than “A” and “B” that need to be considered. What if the newer, more expensive computer was so because it had a larger hard drive and not more RAM, processing power or graphics capabilities?
That was an obvious example, but what about using weight loss as an example? Many people come to what they believe is a seemingly logical or intuitive decision, when in reality, it’s dead wrong. Lets say someone wants to lose weight and comes up with “food = weight” and ends up with an over simplified and extremely general idea that “A: Less food = B: less weight” and go off by that idea. They are completely dismissing all the other details such as the possibility that hormones may play a role in how our bodies partition energy and perhaps different macronutrients promote different hormonal responses in our body.
News publications are notoriously terrible problem solving tools. The news is only reliable for things like local traffic and weather. The media trap is pretty close to the “word of mouth” trap, except the media trap seems more “legitimate” to people.
Unfortunately, the news is always bias to mainstream political agendas and entertainment. You have to remember that the news is a production, whether print or video. Without viewers, the news wouldn’t be given a prime time slot and eventually taken off the network. That only means that they need to have entertainment value and appeal to a specific audience.
The news paper is the same. Unpopular news papers will have ads withdrawn from them and they will be out of business.
Journalist and reporters are the same. They look for exciting and interesting scoops, not true or realistic ones. If someone is looking into fungus as a cancer retardant and a journalist picks it up, we may be in trouble. No one wants to hear that there’s a hypothesis out there on fungus and cancer cells.
Instead, your neighborhood journalist will come up with a crafty publication titled something like “Researches Believe Mushrooms are the cure to Cancer!”. That’s a great way to get someone to pick up a magazine or stay turned to the station, but it isn’t a good source of information.
Stick to the scientific journals and the hard numbers folks!