You are here

Principle of disbelief & verification, an effective principle of problem solving

Sometimes we need to disbelieve what everyone says and closely verify the facts ourselves

disbelief and verification solved a very unusual problem

Everyone involved told me emphatically, no way the problem can be solved. I had to ignore all and use disbelief and verification to reach a great solution.

We know so much. About people around us, things that we use, about ourselves, how the world runs, how nature works and so on. We think and act on the basis of this cumulative knowledge and also according to the problem situation and our psychological makeup and preferences.

This is working world knowledge. Every one of us has it but in different shades, and depths.

As always by problem we mean, a situation where a decision is to be taken after some amount of analysis.

In a problem situation, different persons may analyze and act differently, but one common factor will always be there – the problem solver must spend some time on analysis for taking decisions followed by proper actions towards finally solving the problem in a satisfactory manner.

When we go through our personal or work lives, we usually do not think of the layers of complexity and uncertainty surrounding any piece of knowledge that we need to use time to time to think and act with satisfaction and effectiveness. We depend fully and unquestioning on what we know - our working world knowledge.

This working knowledge can be thought of as a mix of four types of concepts,

  • Hearsay or believed by most people – generally statements and ideas. A good example is the news – streamed in through all media.
  • Formal channels of learning – knowledge gained through our school, college, university and professional training form this layer of knowledge. Belief on this type of knowledge is usually stronger.
  • Our own interpreted knowledge, based on hearsay and formal knowledge. It is possible that you may not take everything that you hear and formally learn for granted as the truth – you may apply your analytical mind to accept, reject or assimilate the knowledge that seems reasonable to you.
  • Core reflexive knowledge - deeply ingrained beliefs based on our physical senses and reasoning. This is the most reliable foundation on which rest of our knowledge should build.

Usually we believe and trust

Without this usual trust in common knowledge and in people around us, we won’t be able to take a positive step forward. Our thinking and action should start with this belief and trust.

In many problem situations, using this working world knowledge that we believe, coupled with our problem solving skills we should be able to reach a satisfactory solution.

But in difficult problem situations, when common perceptions fail to produce any acceptable solution, if we use our core concepts, rejecting and re-evaluating what all others say, chances of reaching the right solution improve considerably.

Principle of disbelief & verification states,

Verify the sanctity of a barrier critically using your own physical senses and reasoning and then only make a judgment about how to overcome the barrier.

Case example: Not a square inch of space available

You work in a large organization with thousands of employees working from numerous buildings spread all over the city. Some of the buildings are owned by your organization and some you rent, usually at high cost.

Lately owner of a particular rented building has started tormenting your 100 odd employees using the rented facility with the ulterior motive of evicting them. It is apparent that after evicting them the owner intends to hire out the facility at a much higher rent. In the process, your employees are suffering.

If they are relocated to one of your own buildings, not only the sizable rent paid will be saved, the people will be free from their daily torment.

You have been entrusted with this not so easy and unenviable task of relocation.

Taking up the job you ask your deputy, “Tell me without thinking of any constraint, what are the choices of our own buildings where we can accommodate them.”

Your deputy responds promptly, “Sir, we have two choices. The first is a space attached with a large warehouse and the second is the nearby old conventional technical building, the first choice though is not the proper one from the point of view of functional propriety.”

“But the second building has absolutely no spare space in it.” He stops. He has done his homework.

You agree with him on his first point of classifying the warehouse as an undesirable choice. Later you investigate through other channels the second apparently fully packed building choice.

The territory manager, the building-in-charge, the construction-in-charge and the trade union leader all inform you emphatically, “Sir, there is not a single square inch of extra space in that building.”

You mull over the problem for a week and find the only course of action open to you is to see the place yourself.

They may be right, but as this is the only possible choice, let me see myself – you think.

To see is to believe, as the old saying goes. It is not that you distrust your deputies. They surely are saying what they believe. But you are aware of the existence of further layers of belief and knowledge.

You arrange for an inspection visit with a team of all concerned.

Critical analysis (in this case on-site inspection) in a team of all concerned is a very important requirement. It is so as, if you discover any truth other than commonly believed truth together, all will become party to the new knowledge or truth. You are only one person. Ultimately your team will carry out further detailed tasks. Unless they also believe in any new discovery, the new knowledge can’t be implemented.

This is a direct application of problem solving technique of witnessing.

Technique of witnessing says,

During a critical discovery stage, involve all concerned in the analysis and discovery process, though you may drive the discovery process yourself.

On the visit day, accompanied by your large team, you start from the ground floor going around the building from outside. You look at everything from an angle focused wholly on one objective – to find space that can possibly be freed up.

All along the question is repeated, “What is this space doing? Is it serving any useful indispensable purpose?”

Total focus on a single point change perspectives and may generate new possibilities.

This is application of principle of focus, albeit, in a different way.

Standing in front of a large enclosure on the ground floor filled to the ceiling with the skeleton of a large rusted long dead machine, you ask, “Can this junk be disposed of and the space freed up? How long would it take?”

“Oh yes sir.” Reply is prompt with a bit of surprise mixed with it. All have seen this enclosure many times before, always accepting it as a part of unchangeable environment.

This is a common tendency – to accept everything close to us in our surroundings as unchangeable.

This is principle of inertia in action.

“Measure the space and record it. Let everybody agree to the record.” You move ahead.

Recording technique is very important in any type of detailed process with official underpinnings. Every agreed to result must be recorded in black and white for precise future use. In corporate meetings this technique has to be religiously followed.

Walking up the stairs, you notice a closed door. Somehow key to the old lock could be found. The dark room is filled to the brim with broken pieces of old furniture. “Measure and record it.” None objects to its usability.

Principle of inertia is active here also. Additionally, an effective technique is applied, technique of opening closed doors.

Technique of opening closed doors says,

While intensely looking for new possibilities, you should explore possibilities that are hidden behind apparently unacceptable notions.

You move on and look into every used and unused space, looking beyond the present into the future of how the space can be used better.

You have special knowledge of a large chunk of space allocated as future equipment space. Planning people has a tendency to do that. As such there is nothing wrong in it except that,

  • Future is uncertain in terms of duration and outcomes
  • New technical equipment reduces in size as years pass.

Being aware of both of these powerful pieces of reasoning, you present your logic to the group to whom the large chunk of space was allocated and they agree.

After all this is a crunch situation where demand for space is immediate, whereas in the future spanning a few years they would have lots of elbow room for flexible action.

This is direct use of Time as a free problem solving resource.

Time is one of the most valuable and powerful free problem solving resources that can be used in various ways in various situations following broadly the powerful  inventive and problem solving principle of free resource usage.

You look into every nook and cranny leaving no space open or closed unexplored.

That is principle of exhaustivity in play. Without proper application of principle of exhaustivity most complex problems would remain less than satisfactorily solved.

At the end, the total space freed up is, to everyone’s great astonishment (including yours of course), more than what is needed to relocate the 100 odd people in the old technical building.

The exercise, however striking it looked to be, has nevertheless been an academic one. The earmarked space needs now to be actually vacated and prepared for relocation. The people are actually to be relocated satisfactorily. That is implementation and this analytical problem solving exercise is realistic on-site planning.

Implementation is also a difficult activity but is more of routine nature.

A good team finally puts in place the implementation satisfactorily.


Though looking beyond what you see in front of you and looking exhaustively created the surprise solution, you invariably believed in and used many powerful problem solving principles and techniques in addition to the principle of disbelief and verification.

We would highlight before closing one of the fundamental principles, that is, the principle of anti-growth.

This principle works well in a familiar technology based civilization. It says simply,

In a technology based civilization, with time, both the number of people required to do work and the size of equipment reduces.

With the help of knowledge of this principle, you have planned before your visit to free up a large chunk of space that has been earmarked for future growth of equipment space.

In a really complex problem situation, no single idea or problem solving resource may be enough to solve the problem satisfactorily.

More often than not, you need to use a number of suitable problem solving armoury resources all focused towards the single goal of breaking down the most difficult barrier in the path of the desired solution.