Admiring the Problem

I had dinner with a friend a couple months back. Harry from Jersey, we’ll call him. He runs a nati

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  1. A few thoughts come to mind…

    1. Are you sure nothing will happen?..

    2. I’m thankful for those visionaries that look at seeming insurmountable odds and say “f*ck it, let’s give it a shot”. (cough, cough, Elon, cough)

    3. The most expensive admiration of a problem going on today…

    1. As sure as I can be.
    2. Me too. I put forward a pretty vigorous defense of the continued need for that here. The point is differentiating between those types and those who are abusing our attention by continually redefining the problem in a rent-seeking loop.
    3. Yes, I think that’s very fair.
  2. Thanks, David!

  3. I had a boss who - as we took over more businesses internally and externally - always said, “let’s assume that really smart people, probably as smart as us, came before us and have looked at these new-to-us problems for a long time and came up with the solutions we see in front of us that we think we can improve upon.”

    It didn’t mean we didn’t try to improve things, but it did humble us and, sometimes, prevented us from devoting massive effort trying to solve the insolvable. The hard thing - as you note - is that this is a balance not an all or none. Working really hard on really hard problems is how mankind advances, but some problems aren’t solvable at this time or with our current technology or in our current budget, etc.

    And, as you note, keeping in check those who thrive on the “one more look,” or “let’s try this” view - who, for some reason, enjoy working on the insolvable or, worse, who have figured out how to personally profit (in money or advancement, etc.) by doing so - is a challenge.

    Smart piece, Rusty, which is probably it reminded me of that very smart boss I had.

  4. One bit of wisdom I was taught many decades ago, was that you not only needed to recognize that really smart people had recognized this problem before, but you have to come up with good explanations of why those smart people hadn’t been able to solve it. Lots of possible explanations (they defined it as an X problem when it was really a Y problem, they ignored interests that benefited from the problem, etc) but it forced you to take a broader look and eliminate those obstacles as a first step. One of the worst things about many modern Silicon Valley (and other) elite professionals is the rock-ribbed conviction that their approach to the world is so superior to everything that came before that that it is an insult to their dignity to have to consider how the problem came about, or why no one else had come up with the solution that they see as staggeringly brilliant.

  5. LOL

  6. Avatar for fvc fvc says:

    Valuable piece Rusty - we can all cringe at how many meetings we have been stuck in with people gleefully “admiring the problem”.

    An aside - are others having trouble liking comments which are more long form (like Mark Kahn below) where you have to click ‘Read More’. I keep getting error message something wrong happened.

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