How do you solve problems?

Few think through their processes. Problems become the bicycle wheel of life, going through the same cycle. Sometimes, you get lucky. Many times, too much time, too much money, and too much brainpower gets exhausted.

Let me introduce you to a problem, one prevalent in the work-from-home residue of COVID-19. It is a problem suffered by many.

When orders came, I moved my work home. I started working on a13-inch laptop rather than a 32-inch monitor hooked to a powerful desktop computer. My world shrunk to not much more than a foot-square box.

On top of that is the affliction-of-age, the bifocal.

The only way I could look at my screen was to crane my neck to where the bifocal would sharpen print. Back and neck pain screamed at me.

I had a laptop riser, but that still did not put my laptop at eye-level.

I am a faithful listener of Laura Vanderkam’s podcast, The New Corner Office. It deals with the new reality of working somewhere rather than at an office.

In one episode, she suggested books. Not the kind you read but the ones you put under a computer to lift it up. (That advice would not work for many who are non-readers.)

I have read many of the original Tom Clancy novels in hardback. The 2-inch thick volumes gathered dust on my shelves rather than being useful. With the two tomes in hand, I slipped them under my laptop stand and sat down.

My neck straightened, and my eyes could see. Pain evaporated.

From this experience, I “re-learned” a question. (I do a lot of re-learning in my life!)

The question is, “what’s the simplest way to solve a problem?”

Don’t let the simplicity fool you. Most people never use it. We ask, “what solves the problem?” Those are two questions.

Solutions to problems such as the “two-book solution” come from two concepts.

William of Occam, a Fransciscan theologian in the 14th century stated it as a principle. It is a principle of economics but has been applied to many fields. Even though he did not originate the concept, his name stuck to it. Today, it is called Occam’s Razor.

Someone can simplify (or even broaden) Occam’s principle. The principle is “the simplest solution is the best solution.” While there are exceptions, it tends to work well in most of life’s situations.

The second principle is “satisficing.” Herbert Simon, who would win the Nobel Prize, coined the word in his 1947 book Administrative Behavior. Simply stated, when a choice has many different possibilities, the one that is best is the one that satisfies the need being met. It’s opposite is “maximize,” which seeks an elegant and more perfect solution.

The crossroads of the two is the best solution. The simplest solution that satisfies the problem is the best solution.

Hence, my two-book solution.

There were many other possibilities. I could have bought a large monitor and monitor stand. Then, I would have to find a place to put it. Instead, two books stacked under a laptop stand cost nothing and fixed the problem.

Everyday problems cross our paths. What do we wear? What do we eat? What do we read? The more options we have, the more paralyzed we become.

Instead of stewing, stop and ask, “what’s the simplest way I could do this and satisfy the problem? You may save some money and will save some energy.