Tag Archives: overdetermined

There Just May Not Be a Magic Bullet – It’s Practically always “Both-And”

It is a great principle in psychiatry that “all-symptoms are overdetermined.  This means that they have more than one cause.
I want to scream this from the rooftops:  “All symptoms are overdetermined.”  Except that I want to expand it way beyond psychiatry.  I want to expand it to almost everything.  I want to translate it, “Anything of any significance is overdetermined.  Everything worth thinking about has more than one cause.”  Repeat after me:  “For any single thing of importance, there are multiple reasons.”  Again, “For any single thing of importance, there are multiple reasons.” 
M. Scott Peck, In Search of Stones:  A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason, and Discovery


If only we could get (come up with) the right __________.

We keep looking for the magic bullet.  In every arena, we want the answer to the problem, to come up with the solution for all time.

Probably not gonna happen!

There is always more to it – more to add to the equation.  So many books make this point.

Consider the problem of creating a product (or service) that generates genuine demand.  Here is a paragraph about it from Demand by Adrian Slywotzky:

For the demand creator, building a magnetic product is essential, but it isn’t enough—you also need to understand the customer’s hassle map and figure out how to connect the dots in ways that reduce those hassles or eliminate them altogether. Making an emotional connection with the customer is crucial, but it isn’t enough—you also need to make certain that all the backstory elements are in place, so that you can be sure to avoid the Curse of the Incomplete Product. And even that isn’t enough—you also need to find the most powerful triggers and deploy them effectively if you hope to overcome consumer inertia and transform potential demand energy into real demand. What’s more, great demand creators instinctively understand that even creating a powerful stream of demand isn’t enough—not unless you make a commitment to intense, ongoing improvement so as to meet, and exceed, the ever-rising expectations of your ever-changing customers.

Or consider the problem of prolonged, even multi-generational poverty.  Here is a paragraph from the terrific and important book:  The Working Poor (Invisible in America) by David Shipler:

For practically every family, the ingredients of poverty are part financial and part psychological, part personal and part societal, part past and part present.  Every problem magnifies the impact of the others, and all are so tightly interlocked that one reversal can produce a chain reaction with results far distant from the original cause. 
If problems are interlocking, then so must solutions be.  A job alone is not enough.  Medical insurance alone is not enough.  Good housing alone is not enough.  Reliable transportation, careful family budgeting, effective parenting, effective schooling are not enough when each is achieved in isolation from the rest.  There is no single variable that can be altered to help working people move away from the edge of poverty.  Only where the full array of factors is attacked can America fulfill its promise. 

We look for that magic bullet, in our own lives, in our business lives, in our relationships…  There simply may not be that magic bullet.  The problems are many; the causes of the problems are many; the solutions are almost always “both-and,” and very, very seldom “either-or.”

So, keep looking.  There is probably something else to add…

What went Wrong? How do We Fix It? — The Two Questions of our era

What got us into this mess?

First, an admission.  I, like all of you, have too many books on my “I should read this” list that I simply will never get to.  In my case, I prepare a minimum of two new book synopsis presentations a month, and that means that there are other books that I simply do not have time to delve into.  At this moment, the books that I am not getting to are books that try to answer these two questions, both related to our current economic meltdown and ongoing crisis:

Question number 1:  What went wrong?
Question number 2:  How do we fix it?

There are a lot, a mean a whole lot, of answers to the first question being thrown out for our consideration.  (Not quite as many for the second question).

Business Week has a review up of one of the many new books tackling these questions.  (One of the many I do not know when I will find time to read).  The book is How Markets Fail:
  The Logic of Economic Calamities by John Cassidy
.  (Read the review here).

Here’s a quote from the book (taken from the review):
Between the collapse of communism and the outbreak of the subprime crisis, an understandable and justified respect for market forces mutated into a rigid and unquestioning devotion to a particular, and blatantly unrealistic, adaptation of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.” And it was this faith, he goes on to say, that led Alan Greenspan, among others, to turn a blind eye to what was happening in the real world of money and business.

This book calls for greater government regulation as one part of a solution.  Chris Farrell ends his review with this:
More important, the reader comes away persuaded that reality-based economics can play a critical role in what the 18th century British conservative Edmund Burke called “one of the finest problems in legislation, namely, to determine what the state ought to take upon itself to direct by the public wisdom, and what it ought to leave, with as little interference as possible, to individual exertion.”
Let’s hope the legislators in Washington share this principled view of their role. Cassidy makes a compelling case that a return to hands-off economics would be a disaster.

As I stated earlier in this post, there is much being written about what went wrong.  A provocative piece in The Atlantic points to an unexpected but specific contributing cause:  the role of pastors in fundamentalist/prosperity gospel churches on the sub-prime mortgage crisis.  The article, Did Christianity Cause the Crash? by Hanna Rosin, argues this:
America’s mainstream religious denominations used to teach the faithful that they would be rewarded in the afterlife. But over the past generation, a different strain of Christian faith has proliferated—one that promises to make believers rich in the here and now. Known as the prosperity gospel, and claiming tens of millions of adherents, it fosters risk-taking and intense material optimism. It pumped air into the housing bubble. And one year into the worst downturn since the Depression, it’s still going strong.

The article chronicles how some banks partnered with some churches, especially some pastors, to help people get into houses.  Houses they could not afford, and ultimately could not keep.  Here’s the conclusion of the article, referencing Pastor Fernando Garay from Virginia:
And there is Garay’s kind of hope, which perhaps for many people better reflects the reality of their lives. Garay’s is a faith that, for all its seeming confidence, hints at desperation, at circumstances gone so far wrong that they can only be made right by a sudden, unexpected jackpot.
Once, I asked Garay how you would know for certain if God had told you to buy a house, and he answered like a roulette dealer. “Ten Christians will say that God told them to buy a house. In nine of the cases, it will go bad. The 10th one is the real Christian.” And the other nine? “For them, there’s always another house.”

I don’t know that there is one cause.  As Scott Peck stated, it is “overdetermined.”  The cause of most problems is overdetermined – that is, there is no one cause, there is a constellation of causes.  And, thus, there is no one solution.

But finding the causes, so that we can avoid them in the future, and then finding the solutions, so that we can dig out of this mess, seems to be the necessary agenda at this time in our history.