Discover Problems, Don’t Solve Them

A while ago I wrote a post called Bring me problems not solutions. An article by Don Peppers on Linkedin called ‘Class of 2013: You Can’t Make a Living Just by Solving Problems’ adds an interesting spin to this and piles even more pressure on those people entering the job market now, as well as those of us figuring out how to stay in it!As we all know, Moore’s Law says that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. As this power has increased the types of problems computers can solve has also increased exponentially. By the time today’s graduates reach retirement age, say in 50 years time (which itself might be getting further away thus compounding the problem) computers will be several million times more powerful than they are today.

As Peppers says:

If you can state something as a technical problem that has a solution – a task to be completed – then eventually this problem can and will be solved by computer.

This was always the case, it’s just that as computers are able to perform even more calculations per second the kinds of problems will become more and more complex that they can solve. Hence the white collar and skilled professional jobs will also become consumed by the ever increasing power of the computer. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, financial analysts, traders and even those modern day pariahs of our society journalists and politicians will continue to see their jobs become redundant.

So if the salaried jobs of even those of us who solve problems for a living continue to disappear what’s left? Peppers suggests there are two potential areas that computers will struggle with, one is to become very good at dealing with interpersonal issues – people skills (darn it, those pesky HR types are going to be in work for a while longer). The other way is not to focus on solving problems but on discovering them.

Discovering problems is something that computers find hard to do, and probably will continue to do so. It’s just too difficult to bound the requirements and define the tasks that are needed for creating a problem. Discovering new problems has another name, it’s also known as “creativity.” Creativity involves finding and solving a problem that wasn’t there before. How to be creative is a very profitable source of income for authors right now with more and more books appearing on this subject every month. However, here’s the irony, just as we are realising we need to be fostering creativity as a skill even more we are quite literally turning the clock back on our children’s innate abilities to be creative. As explained in this video (The Faustian Bargain) “the way we raise children these days is at odds with the way we’ve evolved to learn”.

Sadly our politicians don’t seem to get this. Here in the UK, the head of state for education, Michael Gove, doesn’t understand creativity and his proposed education reforms “fly in the face of all that we know about creativity and how best to nurture it”. It seems that the problem is not just confined to the UK (and probably other Northern Hemisphere countries). In India the blogger and photographer Sumeet Moghe is thinking that his daughter doesn’t deserve school. and is struggling with what alternatives a concerned parent might provide.

So, what to do? Luckily there are people that realise the importance of a creative education, fostering a love of learning and nurturing the concept of lifelong learning. Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on how schools kill creativity is one of the most watched presentations of all time. So, what to do? Watch this and other talks by Ken Robinson as well as other talks on TED that deal in matters of creativity. Learn what you can and get involved in the “creative life” as much as possible. If you live in countries that don’t support creativity in education then write to your elected representative and ask her or him what they, and the government they are a part of, are doing about it. For the sake of all of us this is a problem that is too important to let our leaders get away with not fixing.

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