#13 A Robust Solution

Most problems are conceptually simple. By extension, so are their solutions. They become difficult or even impossible to solve when intricated with other problems.

Let’s look at an example: spaceships.

Now, you would think space travel would be a hard problem to solve given movie portrayals, from the absence of such technology until recent history, the level of training, education, and experience of the people who engage in the endeavor, the sheer expense, etc. But, it’s quite simple. In fact, you are travelling through space right now, and quite fast, too.

All physical objects are in space. All objects in space are, in some sense, in motion. We are all spaceships in flight. But, here are some differences between you and the space shuttle:

– the shuttle can propel itself in a frictionless environment
– the shuttle is airtight in a vacuum
– the shuttle is better insulated from heat loss
– the shuttle has enough oxygen to keep a human alive for weeks
– the shuttle can remove carbon dioxide from air
– the shuttle is aerodynamic
– the shuttle . . .

Each one of these differences/attributes indicates at least one problem, on top of the motion trough space problem. The shuttle is a SET of solutions to a SET of problems, which occur simultaneously or sequentially in the process of orbiting the Earth 300 miles up. To disrupt a shuttle mission, you only have to cause it to fail to solve one problem.

If we presume the shuttle to have just 50 systems, disrupting just one seems like pretty good odds. A caveman could probably do it. The brilliance would be in stopping him.

How do we stop disruption? As with any problem, there are many ways to adapt to it, but they seem to fall into two categories. We can halt the disruptive process. We can cause the disruptive process to be ineffective.

If we think about the apple in the tree scenario, we can see that it isn’t necessary to break our competitor. We just have to stop him from getting the apple. Breaking his neck is just a very good way to do that. We only have to do it once, and it doesn’t require much effort, planning, or resources. But there are other solutions.

On the other side, without getting into the intricacies of hand to hand combat, lets just observe that to get the apple, we have to develop a solution by which we avoid getting our neck broken or by which it doesn’t matter if our neck is broken or becomes broken in the process.

Consider this game model: disrupt opponent; adapt a solution to the problem.

In boxing, you just disrupt your opponent. In racing, you just solve the problem. Even in those games, though, there is disruption and non-disruptive adaptation. Boxers can clinch to disrupt an opponents blows. Racers can block to impede an opponent from finishing the race. Boxers can adapt by changing their fighting stance. Racers can take the lead or drop back to make their solution more efficient with respect to time or more robust with respect to stamina.

There is a sort of cascade that takes place. Opponents take advantage of smaller and smaller details, further and further away from the immediate scope of the game, to disrupt their opponent but also to make their own solution better in some respect.

Robust strategies anticipate and pre-solve problems we might encounter in addition to the main objective.


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