3 min read

What is a “problem“ 4 months later?

A less verbose definition of the word “problem“

@heyshadowsmith

July 6, 2022

In March of 2022, I wrote the following definition for the word “problem”, described in detail in my post What is a “problem”?.

“A problem is a situation where an obstacle applies friction against an entity’s transition from a current state to a desired new state.”
- Shadow Smith

In my original post, I identified 7 ingredients that all must be present in order for a problem to exist:

  1. Entity
    A person, place, thing, or idea that has a state
  2. Current state
    A current characteristic and/or circumstance of the entity
  3. New state
    A new characteristic and/or circumstance of the entity
  4. Transition
    A change in the entity’s state from a current state to a new state
  5. Obstacle
    A source of friction pushing against the transition
  6. Friction
    A force capable of stopping a transition
  7. Desire
    A want for the entity to be in a specific new state

However, after discussing this idea with colleagues, I am challenging the merits of these ingredients.


Challenging the 7 ingredients

  1. Entity
    A problem always has an entity.
  2. Current state
    A problem's entity always has a current state.
  3. New state
    A problem's entity can have an unlimited amount of new states, but if a particular new state isn't desired, there is no problem. However, if there is a threat that may change an entity's state to a new undesirable one, a new problem emerges where the subject "entity" becomes the previous entity's current state.
  4. Transition
    A problem always contains a transition from an entity's current state to a desired new state, but this feels too much like a derivative to continue to be called out as an ingredient.
  5. Obstacles
    A problem always contains obstacles, but they are simply smaller, nested problems.
  6. Friction
    A problem’s obstacles do add friction to an entity’s transition, but the amount of friction indicates how many smaller, nested problems exist along an entity's transition between a current state and a desired new state.
  7. Desire
    A desire for an entity to be in a new state is required for a problem to exist.

The true 3 ingredients

Ultimately, I feel these 3 ingredients have emerged throughout the evolution of my thinking:

  1. Entity
    A person, place, thing, or idea that has a state
  2. Current state
    A current characteristic and/or circumstance of the entity
  3. Desired new state
    A desired new characteristic and/or circumstance of the entity

My new definition

“A problem is the desire for an entity to be in a specific new state and not a current one.”
- Shadow Smith

A problem is solved when the entity can successfully transition from its current state to the desired new one, and unsolved if it can not.

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