Cross-generational problem solving | Sunday Observer

Cross-generational problem solving

21 February, 2021

“We cannot solve problems being in the same frame of mind that created them” – Albert Einstein

Life in general is a continuous exercise in creative problem solving. The success of an individual, an organisation or a country can be attributed basically to the success of the solutions each entity brings to the problem it faces. One can easily see that in the ways different countries are trying to solve the Covid-19 problem at present. Irrespective of one’s nationality, age, gender, race, religion, educational qualifications and/or career choices one will always have to find solutions to one’s own sequence of challenges.

Biologists and naturalists have said that plants, animals and humans all have innate abilities to solve problems they have to face in a natural habitat. We all come to this world equipped with those abilities which are sometimes referred to as survival instincts.

In addition to the challenges and problems thrown at us by our natural habitat, we humans usually have to face problems created by ourselves. Of course, no individual, organisation or country would intentionally try to create problems for themselves unless they expect some kind of benefit that is worthy of enduring the outcome of such a problem. Controlled or prescribed burns of certain sections of forests are examples of such creations that will help prevent possible large-scale destructions of the forest due to random bush fires during the dry weather.

Man-made problems

Man-made problems can mainly be divided into two categories, intentional and unintentional. In both categories the creators don’t think that the problems would have any negative effect on them or the negatives outweigh the positives for them. The creators of the problems usually have no concern about the difficulties others have to face due to those problems.

Intentionally created problems can range from individual actions such as backstabbing a competitor for a promotion at the workplace, framing someone for a crime he/she didn’t commit, stealing trade secrets from rival companies to organised group activities such as human and/or drug trafficking and insider trading all the way to terrorism, instigating wars and regime changes.

The human-elephant conflict, illnesses caused by polluted air and water, pollution of the environment due to overuse of chemicals and non-biodegradable materials, global warming, nuclear disasters and even collateral damages during wars can be considered as some of the examples of problems created by man unintentionally. Irrespective of the nature of the problem and its creation we are faced with the challenges of finding satisfactory solutions to minimise the physical and mental stress of the affected people.

Understanding the problem clearly is perhaps the most important part of the process of solving it. A problem well defined and well stated is a problem half solved. Therefore, it is very important to use all the information and resources at first to understand the problem and the contributing factors of creating it, if at all possible.


There is a possibility of a solution to a particular problem creating a different problem, sometimes even in a completely different part of the world. Therefore, following up with the aftermath of a particular solution is also important in preventing further complications.

Another aspect of solving problems is finding the best out of all different solutions provided by different stakeholders.

Certain problems tend to disappear while some others tend to get even more complicated with passing time. Time can be a crucial factor, especially in health problems where the knowledge of the causation of the problem would certainly help prevent it.

Even though the saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ is often used only in connection with human health problems, it can also be a sensible strategy in the process of solving any type of problem as ‘preventing a problem is better than struggling to solve it’.

There are some conditions that are seen as problems within a space of limited knowledge and therefore, improving the knowledge in that particular field and seeing the connection of that with the other aspects of life will easily solve the problem.

Another important aspect of problem solving is having a well-defined frame of reference within which the solution is expected. Human society can be defined as: ‘a large group of people who live together in an organised way making decisions about how to do things and sharing the works that need to be done’.

Etymological details show the origin from the Latin word Socius which means ‘companion’ giving the basic meaning to the word ‘society’ as the ‘companionship’.

Plato’s Republic described that individual human beings found it difficult to be self-sufficient, and therefore, they formed communities and societies to achieve their common goals through mutual assistance.


Each need of such a society, such as growing vegetables, animal farming, carpentry or producing garments, is taken care of by an individual or a small group of individuals so that everyone in the community has his/her needs fulfilled while contributing their services, knowledge and labour, to sustain and improve that cycle of production and consumption.

This eventually resulted in a community organised into distinct classes according to the importance and the value of their role in providing a particular component for the common good.

Therefore, a solution to a human problem arrived at as an individual detached from the rest of the society, as a village disconnected from other villages or a country disconnected from other countries, will not be the best and lasting solution.

With the development of information technology and all other improvements in sciences people are becoming more and more impatient and expect quick solutions to their problems. Capitalising on such a collective mentality the professionals and governments responsible for providing solutions to the problems of the common man have also started providing the quickest and the most popular solutions but not the best and the sustainable ones.

Most democratically elected governments around the world are appointed for limited periods such as five or six years.

Therefore, they usually focus on that and/or the re-election process at the end of that period as the time frame within which they have to provide solutions to the problems while packaging them as the best solutions for the future of the children of the voters.

Such short-term solutions have created subsequent problems such as, killer diseases, human-animal conflicts, poisonous air, contaminated water and global warming.

As a nation with a proud history, going back hundreds of generations, which is even being marketed to earn a buck in the present context of tourism, Sri Lankans would certainly be better off if they try to find solutions to their problems within a timeframe that includes at least a couple more generations ahead.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and fourteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted at [email protected]