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How Not Knowing Is Sometimes Better

Speeding Up Problem Solving Through Purposeful Ignorance

As an avid disc golfer, I spend an irresponsible amount of time searching through the woods for errant throws. This morning it struck me that I have gradually made a fundamental change in my approach to this, a change which has some interesting relevance to other situations which require problem solving.

As it turns out, I generally spend less time trying to find a missing disc when I stop fixating on looking where I am sure it ended up, and instead cover more ground more quickly, essentially sweeping the area rather than attempting to pinpoint a spot. That being the case, it is by acting as though I don’t know where the object of my desire is which, perhaps counterintuitively, enables me to get to it faster.

This is not an obvious conclusion to draw, or at least it wasn’t for me. I can’t explain why, but for ages I was more likely to stomp around the same ten square feet, certain my shot had ended up right there, than I was to expand my search to a wider area and simply cover more ground more quickly.

It’s easy for me to beat myself up over such nonsensical behavior, but in reality this is not an uncommon modis operandi. When confronted with a problem, many decision makers choose to act as though they already have the answer in mind rather than cast a wide mental net for possible alternatives, and in so doing these men and women end up trying to shoehorn solutions into place. It seems to me this is not likely to lead to very many innovations or improvements, no matter the circumstance.

So the next time you are looking where you are certain you lost it, whatever “it” may be, just take a moment to consider that it might have rolled further away than you thought and so is someplace else entirely.

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