As someone who has spent a significant amount of time conducting primary and secondary research, it’s my natural inclination to always want to define and isolate discrete variables. I approach most problems with the following 2-step problem solving technique:

Step 1: Define all variables associated with the problem

Step 2: Weight all the variables according to their relative importance

Let’s take a simple example.

PROBLEM: (in honor of March Madness) How to jump high.

Step 1 (variables): Upper leg strength, calf strength, body weight, height.

Step 2 (weights): Upper leg strength 30%, calf strength 45%, body weight 20%, height 5%.

Although it’s unlikely that I will grow taller, the above “working” solution presents an actionable exercise regiment should I want to maximize my jump height. I would spend most of my time on my upper leg and calf strength, and some time on losing body weight. It’s a “working “ solution because it’s almost certainly wrong (as in – not the definite solution), but the variable weighting method helps break the problem down into manageable bits (by isolating variables) and eventually through re-tweaking will lead to the definitive solution.

This works very nicely for a simple problem like jump height, but what about more complicated problems like “how do I plan a successful online advertising campaign” or – even more complicated – “how do I live a successful life”? Can the same problem solving convention be applied?

Despite my best efforts (and at one point I did scrawl out 44 index cards, each containing one variable involved in online advertising), I’ve started to realize that really big problems have so many variables that it would be impossible to test and isolate them all. So what do you do when the definitive solution is practically un-findable?

I certainly don’t claim to have the solution to this problem – but so far I’ve done pretty much what I think most people do: embrace the uncertainty – and guess. Because after all, if you spend all your time writing variables on note cards – you’ll never get anything done.

Learning to be Comfortable with Uncertainty
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