Defending the Problem

Craftsmen always love their tools.  Further most of them love their problem.

The policeman must sympathize with the criminal; otherwise how will he be able to model his thinking. Negotiators recommend that you to walk in the other guy’s shoes.

Solutions are a complement to a problem.  This demands a synergy.  The best engineers know a bit about sales, manufacturing, quality assurance, or product marketing.

Perversely this leads to a pattern where in the problem solver becomes the problem’s advocate.  Defending it.  Assuring the problem persists, that it survives.  It when the problem solver’s survival becomes tightly linked to the problem’s survival.  When they have become codependent.

Clay sketches this out nicely in his new book (go get a copy).

The modern example is the record company. Your business solves (what used to be) a hard problem; e.g. how do we get excellent high quality audio performances widely distributed to the general public. Back in the day that was hard! Wax cylinders for heaven’s sake!  Limited shelf space!  Damn radio station play lists!

Now days anybody with a computer can do it; so it’s not really a problem anymore. But for the industry, given that they are in the business of solving that hard problem, they have become the problem’s best friend.  Fighting tooth and nail to keep the problem hard. Odd, isn’t it?

Say you’re a religion. Your business solves the hard problem of giving people a way stay true to a set of principles; call them ethical principles if you want. But these days modern societies have spun up dozens of schemes to help groups of people stay a chosen course. Some are organizational, like hierarchical management or professional societies, some are technical, like PDA’s, some are very transient like flash mobs or flicker groups formed on a single tag; but none of them look particularly like the classic mainstream religion. Again the religion becomes an advocate for the problem.

Clay tells the amusing story of finding some rants defending the craft of monks copying manuscripts in the face of the printing press. He derives a bit of fun by noting that the rant was run off on a printing press.

Recall that Clay’s book is an investigation of what’s unfolding as the cost of forming groups has radically different.  He suggests that there is a phase transition when the cost falls below what he delightfully calls Course’s floor.  Firms, i.e the kind of groups that Course was studying, are glued together with contracts, long-term relationship, and hierarchy. One of his ideas is that these new easy to form groups are often bound by light forces.  For example affection.

Problem solvers don’t just defend their problem when their livelihood is threatened.  They will do it even in the face of threats to these lighter binding forces.   The problem solver has affection for his tools, his profession, his institutions, his clients.  When the shift happens and the displacement arrives these ties can not be casually unbound.  To me, that makes it a lot easier to sympathize with a what looks at first to be quite hypocritical behavior.  Gotta love ’em.

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