Is there a best way to solve a problem?

It’s a matter of perspective(s), isn’t it? The way we relate to it?

Our perspectives seem to work both for and against us in profound ways. The biases we bring along influence our problem solving abilities—as do our past experiences, our tendency to uncover patterns, the time frame within which we’re working.

Remember that cliche about when we—ass-u-me? That’s what happens we don’t have the right model(s); information with a frame for understanding. Or haven’t structured, or organized, our process. Solutions seem a preferable outcome so shouldn’t they also be plausible, clear from bias?

There’s a Coursera course called, Model Thinking, that helps formalize this process—at least for some types of problems. There are four reasons offered why someone might want want to take this class:

  • To be an intelligent citizen of the world
  • To be a clearer thinker
  • To understand and use data
  • To better decide, strategize, and design

Over 180,000 people have signed up…Social proof, engage!

Useful models are inspiring, which is fantastic because we use models all day long and most of the time we don’t even realize it. But it sure would be nice realize it and be more intentional.

Perhaps then my first international experience would have been a bit more…pleasant.

It’s uncomfortable when you can’t relate

Can you recall the last time you weren’t able to relate to someone or something? It’s uncomfortable! The inability to empathize or connect even on a basic level is unsettling. Relating to someone or something usually takes some experience. I used to think it just took “showing up”. But that’s a whole other kind of experience.

I went to Prague in 2012 and it was my first time outside of North America. It’s a beautiful city with lots to explore. And one of the strongest memories I have was not being to communicate with most people.

One day, I had built up an appetite after walking by hundreds of storefronts and soaking in everything I could from these new surroundings. I paused on the sidewalk when a pub menu caught my attention between stomach rumblings. I decided to poke my head in to see what it was like. The space was dark and there were just a handful of people sitting at the bar and a couple at tables.

“Table for one”, I asked. “Sorry, no, closed.”

What just happened? It was the middle of the day, there were customers inside, and I was refused service.

It’s possible something was going on that I wasn’t aware of but it felt different. It was as though the language I used set off the bar’s defense system. Red alert!

If only I had learned a few more Czech words beyond: ”please”, “thank you”, and “beer”.

Despite an otherwise incredible experience, I couldn’t shake the fact that communication, one of humanity’s most basic and essential abilities, was just…not happening.

As a Communicator, I was incapable of letting this go.

Despite an otherwise incredible experience, I couldn’t shake the fact that communication, one of humanity’s most basic and essential abilities, was just…not happening.

As a Communicator, I was incapable of letting this go.

I made a pact with myself when I got home. For at least three months prior to future trips, I would study the native language when English isn’t it.

Streets of Heidelberg

The opportunity arrived sooner than later: Germany the following year. Lovely…their English is so good that I stand to learn a thing or two.

Repeating the Czech pub discomfort seemed unlikely but I studied anyway. And WOW—what a massive difference.

At a minimum, most people I spoke with seemed to appreciate the effort. I was able to read menus, signage, transportation instructions, lots of things. It was an entirely different experience and better than I could have imagined.

I had given myself access to relate.

Models open up the world (and also keep them closed)

Language (and what it represents) is truly one of our great barriers. It’s disappointing because beyond barriers are exciting new worlds. If we only knew…

In 2014, other languages called: Complex systems.

Taking the Intro to Complexity course from SFI was just like coming back from Prague. I couldn’t let go. The cosmic door was blown from its hinges. All these new ideas and concepts should have been overwhelming but instead I filed a permanent address change for my jaw after it emigrated to the floor.

I fell in love with complex adaptive systems and the eyes of everyone I shared the subject with had more glaze than a Krispy Kreme donut.

Network science, a discipline within the study of complex systems, was particularly fascinating. It helped explain issues that I was unable to articulate doing social network analysis two years prior.

It was clear that the language of maths could no longer be a disappointing grade on my high school report card. Linear algebra, statistics and probability, and graph theory, topics I knew little to nothing about suddenly became foundational. Dammit. You wouldn’t have a spare couple of years, would you?

The languages and models of experience are beautiful. And the pull to explore them, irresistible.

Model Thinking, the course

Hopefully the topics in the Model Thinking course, while both familiar and foreign, add new perspectives and become a resource; more ways to relate.

Success looks like shifting some unknown unknowns to known unknowns, and known unknowns, to knowing a little bit. That would be a wonderful outcome.

And knowing a little bit opens up new worlds. Which ones? No idea. This is a Mild Goosechase after all. Week One starts today.

Cover Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *