One hour to save the world

29 Apr 2013

‘If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.’  I came across this quote from Einstein the other day, and thought what a great reminder it is to really think about the decisions that we make before rushing into them.  The downside is that the more time we spend trying to understand problems, the more complicated, diffuse and interconnected with other problems they start to look.  Defining the problem is often difficult, painful and time-consuming, and what’s worse is it frequently doesn’t feel like any real progress is being made.

So should we bother to take Einstein’s advice?  Absolutely!  But we also have to remember that, even if it’s not about saving the world, the reason we set out to define a problem in the first place was in order to reach a solution.  When we’re down to our last 5 minutes, we probably still won’t know everything we want to about the problem, but we will know a lot more than we did 55 minutes earlier.  We might actually feel less certain of the right solution than when we started, but we will be in a better position to make a decision, and the chances are it will be a good one.   As M. Scott Peck has said, ‘The best decision-makers are those who are willing to suffer the most over their decisions but still retain their ability to be decisive.’