To Solve a Problem, First Define It

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Dr. John Psarouthakis, Executive Editor of, and Founder and former CEO, JP Industries, Inc., a Fortune 500 industrial corporation


       This simple concept might be the most important thing I learned while earning an MIT engineering degree. Engineers understand this concept in depth, but policymakers and politicians have a lot of trouble comprehending it. In my lifetime America has burned billions—trillions—of dollars in treasure by leaping to solve problems without first doing a proper job of nailing down exactly what the problem is and then doing a proper job of constructing a solution. The “then” part of the equation is important, too. Government has a decent history with engineering projects. It has a dismal history with social engineering projects. Not paying attention to that history portends, of course, constructing still more dismal history.

On May 25, 1961, JFK made the audacious promise that we would send a man to the moon within nine years. Not only did we put a man on the moon, American technology leaped ahead by several generations . . . fueling a new direction for our economy, and spinning off enormous progress in quality of life here on earth. Just three years after JFK’s moon speech, LBJ—in a speech made here in Ann Arbor—vowed to “rebuild the entire urban United States,” end hunger and poverty in the U.S., and construct a Great Society.   No one can quarrel with those goals, but when we turned to federal programs to achieve them we created a legacy of burgeoning “entitlements” and a Bankrupt Society.

Some things are best done by government; some things are best done in the private sector. Just as surgeons look to surgery as a problem-solver, politicians try to solve social problems by creating more government. Be careful who gains control of solving your problems. Especially right now with a citizenry made fearful by fundamental problems that need fundamental solutions, and politicians who think government is the answer.



4 thoughts on “To Solve a Problem, First Define It”

  1. Dear Dr John, From my experience the issue is that policymakers most of time want, for their own reasons, things to work in the wrong (non orthodoxal way). Its not that they lack a way of working INSTEAD they love to do things in the wrong way because thats their way to hide the truth!! If you have an organized system engineered on advanced IT and management techniques, than you have a serious problem to hide your tricky way of doing business, than the boys club cannot continue since advanced skills is a necessity. Thats why things in Greece and around world organized in a stupid and out of meaning way.

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