We humans are an interesting species. We want to get things done the fastest and easiest way possible, so you would think we would trust the simplest solutions? Logically, yes. But since we are humans, we tend to trust the most complicated solutions. Actually, it’s even worse: we not only trust the most complicated solutions, we tend to disbelieve the simple ones because they are too, well, simple. In yet another demonstration of our brilliant higher thinking processes, we believe that something simple can’t possibly help solve something complicated.
And so we lean towards the more complicated and often less efficient solutions.
This is particularly evident in the field of medicine. One cute example is that of a family doctor in West Africa who gave injections of saline on top of normal treatments. He did this because the norms of the society he practiced in demanded that an efficient treatment involve at least one injection. So this doctor added the placebo injections and because he ‘healed’ so many people with ‘injections’ without charging much, he became very popular.
Interestingly enough, big medical advances often are the result of relatively small discoveries.
“Today, we’re far more likely to hear exaggerated tales of breakthrough new drugs, aggressively marketed and hyped. But it’s the leukemia story that’s the historical norm. Back in the early 20th century, for example – decades before the discovery of antibiotics – tuberculosis mortality fell almost 70 percent (…) due largely to careful studies of nutrition and hygiene. From 1980 to 2000, death from heart disease plummeted an astonishing 50 percent, almost entirely from the use of existing medicines and surgical treatments. These were gradually tweaked, like leukemia therapy, in response to scores of incremental studies. During the past 30 years, mortality from diabetes in men also has decreased by half, largely due to improved use of flu vaccines, smoking reduction, and possibly aspirin use—but not a new blockbuster drug.”
This tendency towards complicated solutions in response to problems doesn’t seem to be limited to the medical field. It actually seems to be happening on a day to day basis everywhere around me. I see so many people struggling to become better, to overcome adversity and succeed in a competitive world. I will never forget the plan a wonderful friend of mine made a couple of years ago. I really wish I had taken a picture. The flow chart took over half her bedroom wall and was so full of colors and post-its and annotations that even she had sometimes problems reading it. For those of you who watch Heroes, her flow chart was even more complex that Dr. Suresh’s interconnectedness map.
What happened to my friend? Well she still had that flow chart rolled up somewhere in her house. She now admits that the only thing it really helped her realize that she was planning more than she was acting, and that the day she took the flow chart off her wall was the one she started succeeding. She made herself a list of three things she would work on and stuck to them until they got done. As soon as one of the items would get done, she’d scratch it off and replace it with another. Some disappeared within hours, others took a couple of weeks. But she accomplished everything she had wanted to and more – because she stuck to a simple solution.
So hopefully, next time I’m looking to solve another one of the wonderful obstacles that life has decided to toss in my way, I will remember to take it one little step at a time and, most importantly, to persevere until the very end. And if I don’t… I have enough post-Its to keep me grounded :).