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March 7th, 2019
Retrospect is 20/20, as they say. Things always seem obvious after the fact. For example when a friend comes over and casually suggests a solution to a problem we are banging are head on. Perhaps we’ve been toiling for hours trying to get some gadget to work and a fresh pair of eyes alleviates and leapfrogs all our effort to a simple solution. Of course it seems obvious after we’ve been shown. Like the answer to a riddle.
Obvious comes from the latin ‘ob viam’, meaning ‘in the way’.
We might invert the use of the word obvious back to this original meaning and use it as a way to find problems to work on. We are, all of us, beset constantly all day by annoying problems that are waiting to be solved. From simple problems like a taking out the trash to find an over flowing dumpster, to the largest that beset our species, like climate change. All of these problems provide ample field for novelty. A field where riddles can be fitted with solutions.
Such obvious problems often get sifted into one of two categories: either they are too big for one person to take on, or they are so small that they are trivial and somehow uninteresting. As Benjamin Franklin once said “so convenient a thing to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.” Or in this case, not do.
Whether a problem is interesting enough or not, or whether it is obvious, or if the solution is obvious – all of these are simply perspectives. Mental configurations that handle and turn over some object of our consciousness. Holding a problem a certain way in our minds, it can be boring, or simply annoying. Holding it another way and suddenly the solution seems obvious. None of these perspectives have anything to do with changes in the real world or changes in the problem. These perspectives occur solely due to changes within ourselves.
We might wonder the next time we hear ourselves say I don’t feel like it, if perhaps we can think about things a bit differently and in so doing invoke a completely different feeling that suddenly impels us to get to work on the problem at hand.
A lack of motivation about any given thing is really the absence of a better question that we have not yet asked ourselves.
Suddenly we ourselves can be the most obvious problem standing in the way of progress. Often the solution is to simply get started, and then progress seems to guide itself.
The solution of just getting started suddenly seems as obvious in retrospect as the problem of not knowing how to start seemed like the big problem in the way of progress in the first place.
It’s somewhat encouraging to think of the experience of a solution arising with a new perspective and applying it to the future and wondering just how many novel solutions are staring us in the face right now, just waiting to be seen.