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You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it

By Jack Vaughan

Last week we called for readers to complete this sentence fragment: “You can’t solve a problem … ” The results provided an interesting look at the mind set needed to succeed as software architects and application development team members.

It was a comment in an article by services and networking expert Tom Nolle that caused us to initiate this competition. In a Q&A, he said, “You can’t solve a problem you don’t have yet.” He was discussing some of the reasons why Web services were originally done in one way, but are now often being done in quite a different context. It took a while for people to grasp this, because Web services were born in a different time with different problems. We thought Nolle had struck on something very essential to understanding the evolution and pitfalls of technology.

So what did readers contribute? Quite a few different adages, probably gained through hard experience. But, most frequently cited was a quote or variation [slight or large] on a quote attributed to Albert Einstein.  That is: ”You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

 Close variants included:

”You can’t solve a problem … using the same kind of thinking that created it.”

”You can’t solve a problem … on the level on which it was created.”

”You can’t solve a problem … by using the same kind of thinking that created the problem.”

The advice to look at problems anew seems crucial and worth re-affirming. Many years have passed, but I still remember doing a requirements session as an end user.  Through some brief magic, I was able to see the development teams’ thoughts in bubbles above their heads as we described the system’ needs; above their heads in the thought bubbles were the same C++ code snippets they’d used in the last project we did. As things developed, they once again solved our old problem, but not the one that we were facing just then.

What is true for developers is true for architects and development managers too.  Even though you may have seen it all, you probably haven’t seen it aligned quite like it is just now – guess that goes for reporters and columnists too.

More on problem solving –