South Asia Center Nonresident Fellow Ahmed Humayun wrties for 3 Quarks Daily about simple solutions in a complex world:
We are overwhelmed by choices and decisions in our integrated, interdependent, information-rich world. We often find it difficult to identify what is important, to solve or even ameliorate pressing problems. We may live in a time of unsurpassed abundance – at least, in the advanced, industrialized regions of the world – but we are unequipped to deal with the implications of unprecedented choice. Thanks to the Internet and social media, vast rivers of information course through laptops and tablets and smartphones, constantly threatening to drown us. In this type of world, how should we – as individuals, professionals, and nations – focus on the relevant information, attack the right problems, generate creative alternatives, and make effective decisions?
In Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World, Donald Sull, a senior lecturer at MIT, and Kathleen Eisenhardt, a professor at Stanford’s School of Engineering, locate the answer in ‘simple rules’. Their starting point is the work of Warren Weaver, an early 20th century leader in the science of complexity who categorized the stages of scientific eras as a progression through simple, uncertain, and complex problems. ‘Simple’ problems can be addressed through powerful formulas that relate a few variables, such as force = mass x acceleration, while in ‘uncertain’ problems, probability and statistics are used to predict the average behavior of large numbers of things.