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“The Lost Glasses” Problem

A couple days back I lost my eye-glasses. My eyesight is not that bad without the eye-glasses. But it indeed threw me off a bit.

Losing eye-glasses seems to be one interesting type of problem. The very existence of the problem reduces your ability to solve the problem. Like if you lost keys, you can search keys fine. Losing keys does not affect your ability to search for the keys, but losing glasses does.

I started to think about other kinds of problems of this type. Alcoholism also seems to be of the same type. The very fact that you are drunk takes your ability to think straight and makes it harder to kick the habit.

Often times, when estimating the difficulty to solve the problem, we only consider the magnitude of effect the problem has on our lives or the level of difficulty involved in solving it. But there are two more dimensions. I am just going to coin my own terms here for the lack of existing words or for lack of my vocabulary. “Visibility-affector” is how easy the problem makes to notice itself, and “Fix-ability-affector”- or how the problem effect our abilities to solve the problem. Together, these two factors can created a cognitive dissonance, compromising our ability to comprehend and fix the problem.

Visibility-affect can be positive, where the problem is as we see it. Like spilled coffee.

It can be zero, where it is hard or impossible to see the problem from the symptoms and we have to go on wild goose hunt. Like finding who stole my phone. I just see the phone is gone, but seeing that the phone is gone does not help me to find who took it.

It can be negative. In this case, the symptoms make us believe exact opposite of what the problem really is. A paradox situation. I remember reading in a six sigma book about how an attempt to control a process can make it go haywire and make you believe that you are not controlling it enough, thus making you believe that more control is needed. While in fact, the improvement can be seen by controlling less. There are some dogs who go on eating till they die, unless stopped by someone else. Because when the dogs overeat and feel discomfort, they feel like the discomfort can be fixed by eating more.

The second dimension is “fix-ability-affect” can be affected in positive, zero and negative way as well.

In positive fix-ability-affect, the very nature of problem increases our ability to fix it. Like in an attempt to design a light electric vehicle, say you are forced to reduce the size of battery, then the weight of the battery goes down. This makes the required size of chassis smaller , thus helping your goal of reducing the overall weight. So when you try to make a vehicle 1 kg lighter, you end up making it 1.5 kg lighter.

In zero fix-ability-affect, the problem does not effect our ability to fix it. This is very common case. Like spilled coffee. It neither increases nor reduces your ability to clean it.

And the third is negative fix-ability-affect, like losing glasses, or becoming alcoholic. As clearly seen, these kinds of problems can be hard to solve.


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