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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

It’s Complex

I spent a few hours today watching a technician work on my electric dryer. It had developed a problem and the diagnosis was a defective circuit board. At one time the technician would have done some troubleshooting, found the fault and replaced a part or two. A combination of labor costs, and a design that makes it all but impossible to do work in the field resulted in a replace rather than repair approach.

My Dad was capable of building or fixing just about anything. He was the son of an engineer and an engineer himself. He knew how to use nearly any tool and he taught me when I was barely able to hold them. To this day I am generally undaunted by the prospect of fixing something—though it has become harder to do so. The challenge is complexity. Take the card in my dryer. The issue was easy to diagnose—a failed power supply that was undoubtedly caused by the overheating of one or two parts. I own the tools and have the knowhow to figure out which, but even if I did I would need an industrial oven to melt the epoxy that secures the parts to the board. So, the only option was to replace the board.

Why is it so complex? The answers are several. The manufacturer was likely concerned that vibration could loosen connections so they ensured that would not happen by securing things with glue. In truth it would not occur to them to think anyone in this day repairs their own circuit cards. Older machines used less complex boards—less complex because they offered fewer options. Why so many options? Good question. Manufacturers will tell you it is because consumers demand them. I have twelve different settings and I use three. I guess I am not one of those consumers. My guess is most of us aren’t.

In most ways, ours is a world filled with complexity but we yearn most of all for simplicity. We long for a time when our problems appeared solvable, albeit through sacrifice and hard work. Few would suggest that today. When politicians or pundits suggest easy and simple solutions for the vexing challenges we face in our country, in our world, it is all too tempting to turn a blind eye to what we know and accept those answers. We know better—we know that isn’t the case but we are weary of the mind numbing, defeating complexity that surrounds every issue and ill we face.

Fixing things requires time, patience and the willingness to learn. Unravelling complexity is not quick or simple. What is easy is to throw our hands up in the air, condemn those who we think are creating complexity because they disagree with our views, and dismiss any information which does not agree with our own perspective. We want the good old days—when things were black and white, there were good guys and bad—and we were unfailingly the good guys.

We’ve come to learn that isn’t always the case today and perhaps it wasn’t so in the past either, but we did not know and probably did not want to see that we were capable of turning a blind eye to injustice and inequity. Think about it—in our own country’s history in the world’s. We have been doing this since the earliest of days. The bible, taken as a historical document, and manuscripts as ancient or older tell stories of humankind’s penchant for turning a blind eye on suffering and choosing the simple, if fatally flawed solution that was offered up in the name of law and order.

As I think about the world in which I live today I feel privileged that I am able to obtain answers to so many questions at the tap of a few fingers. Information has never been so readily available to us and yet we have never been so inundated with falsehoods and misrepresentation. But I am not condemning this flow of information—it is what allows us to arrive at an understanding of what is honest and real. Sifting through the complexity of this information is the challenge. On every side of every issue there is a cloud of complexity that masks the truth. So, how do you find what is real?

As I said earlier—solutions are not simple, anyone who tells you so is either terribly naïve or lying. If solutions to our world’s challenges were simple we would have acted on them a long time ago. If we want to pick at the knot of complexity we must be prepared to use a particular tool, our ability to question. The most powerful word in our language is why. If we can understand why, we have our hands on one end of the snarled-up skein of a problem. If we want to raise a generation of problem solvers we must teach them how to fix things by learning how to use this tool.

Ask why and keep on asking until the contradictions and anomalies are uncovered. Use every source of information available but insist on facts, not opinions. Verify, look for the flaws and be prepared to accept the answers even when they don’t agree with your views or suppositions, especially when they don’t. Accept that we will make mistakes—when they are uncovered, revisit your understanding and if it changes be prepared to alter your views.

If we teach our children to use these tools we can raise a generation that like my father’s and his father’s before him are equipped to fix things. The world will continue to become more complex, we have seen this evolve over hundreds–thousands of years We cannot simply replace what is broken, or dispose of it, it’s up to us to repair it.

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