In my previous blog “Best or Least Worse 1”, I argued that many problems that confront us in the real world do not have simple solutions and that in reality we are searching for the least worse solution rather than trying to optimise and achieve a perfect solution. Today I want to further consider two other aspects of this matter.
Simple problems may have an obvious best solution. However, more complex types of problem, that need a least worse outlook, are often called dilemmas, or in severe cases a conundrum or an enigma. In these problems, all possible courses of action have significant downsides.
A typical example could be the recent debate about BREXIT. The choices are simple to determine. If you are a resident of the UK, you could vote yes or no. However, either way forward had significant downsides. The political supporters of each side repeatedly identified these downsides. They all announce their views as if they were clinching arguments, they argue the evidence they present leads to a best solution. They even say things like “the best way forward for is….” when they invariably mean ” the best for me is…” What is best is impossible to determine, but the UK voter may have a chance of determining the least worse solution to their dilemma of how to vote.
In reality, it becomes more realistic if the UK voter were to consider all the potential evidence of the outcomes of BREXIT in various scenarios and then consider which of the outcomes would be the least worst. It would ensure the UK voter decision-making process is more realistic, and to that extent aid in deciding which way to vote.
Best is the enemy of good.
In seeking a best solution, where one does not exist, we inevitably go in one of two directions.
First, we will prevaricate. Now this may not be a terrible idea if the problem might go away of its own volition. However, with many dilemmas the problem with prevarication is that the outcomes of the problem will only get worse and/or the potential courses of action you might take are reduced. So if the problem may solve itself, then perhaps prevarication is an excellent choice, but we should prevaricate only as a conscious decision, based on evidence, not a resigned inability to decide. In all other cases we should decide with speed to preserve as many options as possible.
Seeking a best solution, the second direction we may take, is to resort to deciding on a “gut-feel” basis, or what someone else suggests, or even simply tossing a coin. None of which can be as good as considering all the evidence around the problem and seeking the least worst way to progress. Recognising that even the least worst approach will have downsides. By doing this, we can then identify those downsides, and put in place strategies to ameliorate them, if not avoid them entirely.
The least worse approach leads to a focus on all the available evidence, and the inadequacies of that evidence, in the decision-making process. Rather than attempt to seek a “clinching” best piece of evidence to drive the decision. In seeking a least worse way forward, we will focus on the outcomes of your decision making, not some sunny uplands of a best solution, but the realistic outcomes, which must lead to superior decision making in complex situations.