Why imperfect solutions are important


Electric car - imperfect solution

Electric car – imperfect solution











Humans seem to have a built-in tendency to focus on imperfect solutions, ignoring mounting evidence of those imperfections and refusing to pay sufficient attention to newer or counter intuitive alternatives.

This plays out in entrepreneurs and small business owners as individuals by the belief that new skills, tools, programmes, will solve pressing problems, when what is really required is new thinking and more action.

It is evident in society in, for example, the belief that gender and racial discrimination can be stopped by legislation, and affirmative action, when there is strong evidence to suggest that these solutions have unintended consequences and frequently create a backlash.

The US Supreme Court recently upheld Michigan’s affirmative action ban. Part of the backlash? A return to a common sense approach?

In the new digital age, there seems to be an indecent rush to throw out old standards that have endured for thousands of years and replace them with new conventions that only benefit a small minority while antagonising a large section of the majority. Same-sex marriage, ridiculously protective school playground rules, restrictions on free speech are, a few examples.

A new book, Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring sanity to our politics our economy and our lives,  by Joseph Heath provides some interesting ideas on how to beat racism, it also delves deep into why we become fixated on superficial differences we can easily observe in people who are not from the same group as ourselves. Skin colour, gender, language, age being the most obvious.

The book explains why the military and sports teams have been more successful in racial integration in the USA than other institutions.

This post is not about racism, but the race issue, as it seems to command an unusually large part of many North American’s attention, provides an example of huge focus on imperfect solutions that may be making the problem worse.

Many inventions that have had huge impacts on the lives of millions have come from people who have looked beyond the obvious, looked for alternate uses of common items. Looked for other ways of using the results of failed experiments (Post-it notes).

The electric-powered car is constantly touted as the answer to global warming, protecting the environment and conscientious consumerism. It could be all of those but, it is expensive and has a limited range. Unless the electricity it uses is produced by a renewable energy process, all it does is transfer the carbon footprint to a coal, oil or gas-fired generating plant while making its owner feel good.

Right now, the electric car is an imperfect solution.

Most of the current development activity is focused on improving battery performance.

What if better batteries will always be an imperfect solution? What if instead of storing more electricity in smaller, lighter batteries that can be recharged quickly, the power source was remote from the vehicle? Like trams or electric trains drawing current from overhead lines or live rails. Or if batteries that could be continuously charged from a magnetic field embedded in the road were to be developed?

One revolutionary idea that has stuck in my mind for 20 years or more is the idea of storing energy as something other than electricity.

In South Africa, a massive hydro-electric generating system was developed with the Lesotho government in the mountains along the border of those two countries. Surplus energy was stored as water in reservoirs, not electricity in batteries.

Here’s how it worked, in peak demand periods, water was let out of a series of large dams or reservoirs high up in the mountains to drive turbines which produced electricity for the national grid. During low demand, electricity from the grid was used to pump water back up the mountain to refill the dams.

It’s known as pumped storage and is used in other parts of the world. Is it a perfect solution? Obviously not as it uses a lot of the energy it creates.But it does provide the solution of more power at times of peak demand without burning more fossil fuels.

What is the connection to electric cars, saving the environment and living an extraordinary life? Nothing directly, but just to get you to think of ways of improving on imperfect solutions.

That’s why imperfect solutions are important.

The old creative call was to “Think outside the box”, I am suggesting it’s time to throw the box away altogether.

What do you think? What imperfect solutions can trigger a change in your life?


Peter Wright




image courtesy of digitalart / freedigitalphotos.net

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