As Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” This famous quote highlights the importance of humility in our approach to problem solving. The difference between a wise person and a fool is that the fool thinks they know more than everyone else, while the wise person understands what they don’t know. In problem solving, humility is key to success. By being open to the idea that there are many unknowns, we can approach problems with a more comprehensive understanding and a willingness to learn.
To effectively embrace imperfection and epistemic humility, consider the following:
- Tolerate Ambiguity: Good problem solving requires us to tolerate ambiguity and embrace imperfection. The real world is highly uncertain, and we must estimate probabilities to make sound decisions. To do this effectively, we must be comfortable with the idea that our knowledge is always provisional and incomplete.
- Think in Terms of Odds: It’s essential to think in terms of odds rather than certainties when making decisions. When the Australian research body Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) sought royalties from major companies for violating their wireless internet protocol patent, they estimated they needed only 10 percent odds of success for this to be a good wager, given the legal costs and likely payoff. By picking the weakest of the IP violators and selecting a legal jurisdiction that favored plaintiffs, they improved their odds and received settlements exceeding $500 million. This example shows that probabilistic thinking can pay off when used effectively.
- Challenge Certainty: To embrace imperfectionism with epistemic humility, start by challenging solutions that imply certainty. Asking questions like “What would we have to believe for this to be true?” can help bring implicit assumptions to the surface and assess alternatives more effectively.
- Make Small Moves: When uncertainty is high, making small moves or acquiring information can help edge out into a solution set. Perfect knowledge is in short supply, particularly for complex business and societal problems. Embracing imperfection can lead to more effective problem solving, which is particularly essential during an emergency or at the beginning of a problem-solving process.
Humility is also important in our personal lives. It can help us approach relationships, personal growth, and life in general with a more open mind and a willingness to learn. This approach can be valuable for those seeking personal growth and fulfillment.
If you’re struggling to drive towards your personal vision or goals, consider seeking help through a coach. A coach can help you create a vision statement and an action plan, and provide support and accountability to keep you on track. Through my 12 week accountability coaching program, I help clients work towards their goals and achieve the vision they have for their lives.
In conclusion, the importance of humility in problem solving cannot be overstated. By acknowledging what we don’t know and embracing imperfection, we can approach problems with a more comprehensive understanding and a willingness to learn. This approach can lead to more effective problem solving, particularly during times of uncertainty. Furthermore, humility can also be valuable in our personal lives, helping us approach relationships and personal growth with an open mind and a willingness to learn.