The great scientist Albert Einstein warned that problems cannot be solved while thinking at the level at which they are created.
Sunday Opinion with Simon Bere
This profound truth is recited many times from many expert and leadership pulpits, quoted in many books and publications and parroted in many situations and conversations to the point that the saying has become just another cliché.
The whole world seems to have chosen to ignore the deeply penetrating truth of Einstein’s observation, but again, this is forgivable because it is human nature never to want to think deep into things.
But what Einstein was saying is not just a mere mentally stimulating quotation from a genius, but a really solid fact that carries the DNA for solving all problems that require human thinking to solve. All economic problems, including Zimbabwe’s economic challenges, are not immune to Einstein’s observation on problem solving.
Some people, especially some business, economic and political leaders the world over, feel insulted when they hear Einstein’s truth.
They immediately take it to mean that Einstein means that the leaders led their businesses or economies into challenges because they were thinking at low levels and the fact that they are failing to solve the problems means that they have some thinking deficiency. This is far from what Einstein meant.
Then there are also some who are open-minded enough to acknowledge Einstein’s observation, but the problem is they probably do not fully understand what Einstein meant so they cannot practically use Einstein’s wisdom to solve the problems that they could easily solve.
For those who feel insulted by Einstein’s observation, I suggest that, hard as it may be to admit it, it is a healthy position to accept the reality, that being a leader does not mean that one knows it all and is therefore above misjudgement and error.
This means that in the process of leadership, leaders must, especially when they are leading at high levels where goals are complex; accept that they can — without their conscious will — lead their organisations or economies into difficulty and challenging situations.
They must also accept that when failure comes, they need to expect some of their followers to blame the failure of their businesses and economies on them. Refusing to accept responsibility for failure and not tolerating people who blame them for failure puts leaders completely out of control of the situation and makes things worse instead of better.
Einstein’s proposition does not insinuate any intellectual insult on anyone, but only that every problem requires the application of a certain level of thinking to solve and that level must be higher than the level at which the problem was created. By levels of thinking, he meant real physical levels of thinking and not meaning that lower levels of thinking are in any way inferior.
Take it this way; if you have a 10-metre-tall orange tree and all the oranges that remain are nine metres high up the tree, you cannot expect to stand on the ground on your feet and stretch your hands and pluck them just like that.
Yes, you can try shaking up the tree and the oranges may fall, but still the force from your shaking must reach the orange for it to fall. Yes, you can cut the tree so that the tree will fall, but again the whole idea is making sure that you are at the level at which you can touch the orange and pluck it.
The two most reasonable solutions for getting to the orange intelligently are either climbing up the tree to a level at which you can touch the orange, or getting a long lever with which to pluck or poke the orange from the tree. I suspect this is what Einstein meant when he talked about thinking at the higher levels to solve a problem.
How does this apply to solving problems confronting Zimbabwe’s economy? The fact that Zimbabwe’s problem has persisted and the situation is still worsening simply means that Zimbabwe still has not found the real solution to its economic problems. The right solution that will effectively solve the economic challenges is like a combination of the right door and the correct key that one must have in order to escape from a situation in which the person is trapped in a bolted enclosure.
Take the various possible economic solutions as doors with only one being the real economic solution and the following questions arise for Zimbabwe’s economy?
Is the real escape door for Zimbabwe’s economy known for sure at this moment in time?
If the only real escape door for Zimbabwe’s economy has been found, has the keyhole been studied so that the right key that opens that door can be determined?
Has the right key to the only real escape door for Zimbabwe’s economy been found as yet?
If the right key to the only real escape door is known, does Zimbabwe know where or how to get the key?
Here is the point. There are only four door-key combinations and only best combination, one bad combination and two average combinations. The best combination to solving any problem is having both the right door and the right key. The worst situation is having both the wrong door and the wrong key.
The second best option is having the correct door even if the correct key may not yet be known or available. The third best option is not knowing the correct door and doing trial and error with any key you can lay your hands on hoping that one of the keys will open the correct door by coincidence.
Applying Einstein’s levels of thinking, it may be important to ask the following higher order questions regarding Zimbabwe’s economic problem:
Is Zimbabwe’s real economic situation understood at a deeper level than the usual conventional economic levels?
Is the correct escape door really known and is the configuration of its keyhole well-mapped?
Is the correct key to the correct escape door known?
Is the escape destination known?
lIs the path from the now to the escape destination known?
Even if the world paid heed to Einstein’s wisdom, many problems would still arise, but most problems would be prevented and many others of the world’s problems would be quickly solved.
First, contrary to Einstein’s advice that complex problems are solved by thinking, the world now thinks that knowledge is what solves all problems. Today when people are looking for problem solvers, they are looking only for people with subject knowledge, believing that what is required to solve every problem is subject matter knowledge, experience and expertise, without ever thinking of the capacity. This is a huge mistake.
Second, Einstein said in solving problems he would spend most of his time trying to understand the problem and only a small fraction of the time actually developing a solution to the problem.
The world however, is doing completely the opposite, spending very little, if any time, trying to understand problems. All the time is spent trying to fix the problem by trial and error or through passive miracles. This is suicidal.
Einstein said things must be made simple but not simpler and the world goes on complicating everything and therefore adding other layers of problems to be solved. This is fatal.
These are some of the reasons why it is difficult to solve Zimbabwe’s economic challenges.