The Moderate Solution Bias

Problem solving is a very interesting field.  It’s about how you get to answers to hard problems that ultimately work best.  In our society, we’re not very good at solving hard problems.  Here’s why.

If you notice any debate that you can see on the television, for example, you will see a distinct bias towards moderation.  Radicals, with radical solutions are portrayed as wild-eyed, zealous loonies whose views should be discounted and ignored wholesale, whereas those people considered to be “moderate” are given a hearing.  You see this in diplomacy and trade negotiations too.  We have a blind spot, when it comes to problem solving, to solutions that are not moderate, put forward by moderates.

What does that actually mean?  It means that we approach every problem we want to solve from the assumption (and that’s all it is) that things are basically ok, but they need a slight tweak.  We need to moderate the existing solutions.  We need to change things, but not too much.  What we have is nearly perfect; it just needs a little fine tuning.

Is that really true?  Have we really reached a point in human history where every problem we face will succumb to a little moderate fine tuning?  I don’t think it is true.

Radical solutions, by definition, get to the root cause of the issue and try to change that.  They are not solutions that try to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.  They are solutions that get to the issue of whether or not there are enough life boats.  More to the point, they address the hubris associated with claiming to have engineered and constructed a ship that is “unsinkable”.  Even deeper still, they address the greed behind disguising a ship with a broken keel as another, deliberately driving it to destruction for insurance reasons, with a failed plan to rescue the passengers (a ship close by, but not quite close enough, that has plenty of surplus blankets?  Please.  What a coincidence).  It speaks to opponents of a system of monetary issue perishing on the ship conveniently.  It digs deep and discovers the true origins of the problem.

The problem with radical solutions is that they confront those who have a vested interest in the current, failing solution, who for reasons of personal gain or prestige, only wish to permit tweaks to their solution.  That’s why you can’t get rid of government.  You can only change who governs.  There are people that don’t want the idea of government to be challenged and replaced, even if the alternative solution provides better outcomes.  They will claim that the outcomes must be worse, because they are not mere tweaks to a solution that patently isn’t working.  That’s a baseless claim, made through a circular argument, but one that is made in daily debate and discourse, especially in the media.  We have to keep what’s broken and try to fix it, they say, because any other solution must be worse, because it isn’t based on the current broken solution.  Strange logic.

The other problem with radical solutions and those that propose them is that they are, in many cases, right.  They have the best answer to a difficult problem.  It’s very difficult to be right, when so many other people are wrong, without coming across as a complete jerk.  It is far easier to call the person with the radical answer a conspiracy theorist and to dismiss their solution entirely – even though it happens to be right.

I’m not saying that every problem requires a radical solution or that any radical solution is the right radical solution.  Far from it.  However, I am strongly asserting that moderate solutions are not universally right or best, despite the fact that these are the answers that feel most comfortable, are the easiest to sell and which don’t make too many waves or disruptions.  Moderate solutions are often very wrong and very damaging, despite our preference for them.

This applies to art and originality.  The right “answer” is to propose something that gets to the root of the “problem”, however you define those terms for yourself.  Doing small things to existing artistic solutions probably won’t get you there.  Pastiche and homage are strange bedfellows.  Blatant copying and being influenced by another artist’s work also exist on a strange continuum.  There is no black and white cut off point.  The only true expression of originality lies in going to the root and coming up with an answer that solves the problem at a root level.

Start noticing this.  Employ the confirmation bias positively to realise that now that you have been told that we have a bias toward moderate solutions, that there are millions of moderate solutions being passed off as best, all around you, when a radical solution might have been better.  Take a look for yourself, but don’t forget to notice the counter examples.  There are some radical solutions that are adopted and embraced.  I found they are in the minority, though.  See what your observations tell you.

About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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