Interesting Problems

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses what it means to find and to work on an interesting problem.

First, interesting problems are rarely solved completely. Interesting problems do not have one definite solution that works for all cases. If it did, it would not have been interesting. We should be looking for problems to challenge us, rather than just problems that have a definite, permanent solution.

Second, interesting problems are not the same as situations that have multiple constraints. If we can relax one of the constraints and achieve a permanent solution for a given situation, this situation probably is not a challenging or interesting problem.

Third, an interesting problem is worth the effort we put into it. For any problem where we can search to look up an answer, that problem is not interesting. An interesting problem is always going to have wrong answers to go with it, obvious deficient that do not meet the constraints set forth by the problem. Dealing with deficiencies also means that we must be okay with the fact that, after we put in the effort, our solution might not work.

One characteristic of the interesting problems is that they are complex with multiple axes or considerations. Real-world problems always have multiple axes to consider and to address. There are trade-offs, and trade-offs make the problem interesting.

Another characteristic of the interesting problems is that they have multiple users or stakeholders. Different people want different solutions. Part of solving an interesting problem is figuring out who it is for in the first place.

What should we do when we encounter and want to solve an interesting problem? The first thing to understand is that it is OK for trying and ending up with the wrong answer. An interesting problem usually does not have the one right answer all the time.

The second thing to do is to ask the right questions and to understand the trade-offs by looking deeply into uncertainty. Instead of trying to find ways to guarantee the problem will not return, we should figure out how to embrace the complexity of the problem and build more resilience into our solution and approach.

Many of us have been brainwashed to look for the right answers all the time. Instead we should look at the problem, decided why it is interesting, and look for ways to address the complexity of multiple axes and users.