How often do you re-evaluate the world for yourself?

Today is July 29 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you re-evaluate the world for yourself?” Those who navigate the chaos keep a firm grasp on their ability to see things differently. If they find themselves in a routine, they may assess their situation and look for a better way.

As American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut Mae Carol Jemison observed: “Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out...You can hear other people's wisdom, but you've got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.”

Navigating the chaos requires you to continually re-evaluate the world for yourself. Doing so may allow you to travel down a road where no one else was able to go. Translating dreams into reality often involves ignoring the constraints placed upon a situation by others and their lack of imagination. Re-evaluating the world can also allow you to leverage your benign ignorance in order to navigate the chaos. American mathematical scientist George Dantzig is one such example.

An event in Dantzig's life became the origin of a famous story in 1939, while he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. Near the beginning of a class for which Dantzig was late, Professor Jerzy Neyman wrote two examples of famously unsolved statistics problems on the blackboard. When Dantzig arrived, he assumed that the two problems were a homework assignment and wrote them down.

According to Dantzig: "I arrived late one day at one of Neyan's classes. On the blackboard there were two problems that I assumed had been assigned for homework. I copied them down. A few days later I apologized to Neyman for taking so long to do the homework — the problems seemed to be a little harder than usual."

Six weeks later, Dantzig received a visit from an excited professor Neyman, who was eager to tell him that the homework problems he had solved were two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics. He had prepared one of Dantzig's solutions for publication in a mathematical journal. As Dantzig told it in a 1986 interview in the College Mathematics Journal:

“A year later, when I began to worry about a thesis topic, Neyman just shrugged and told me to wrap the two problems in a binder and he would accept them as my thesis.”

Years later another researcher, Abraham Wald, was preparing to publish an article that arrived at a conclusion for the second problem and included Dantzig as its co-author when he learned of the earlier solution.

This story began to spread and was used as a motivational lesson demonstrating the power of positive thinking. Over time Dantzig's name was removed, and facts were altered, but the basic story persisted in the form of an urban legend and as an introductory scene in the movie Good Will Hunting.

Because Dantzig didn't know these problems were unsolved, he wasn't constrained by what he would have believed to be his limits. His benign ignorance propelled him to unknowingly re-evaluate solutions to previously unsolvable programs. As he later wrote about the chance event:

"If I had known that the problems were not homework but were in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics, I probably would not have thought positively, would have become discouraged, and would never have solved them." Sometimes in life our ignorance can serve as a catalyst without our knowledge. The adage ‘ignorance is bliss’ may be true but it is equally so when it comes to re-evaluating a problem that so many others were unable to solve.

Seeing things differently, or perhaps even for the first time, can certainly help you navigate the chaos.

  • How often do you re-evaluate the world for yourself?