Persistent Questions

Some questions require critical thinking to answer. Such questions are by definition rigorous- a rigorous question requires answers that are beyond a hypothesis.

Then we have yet another class of questions- questions that are like nagging doubts – these cannot be answered fully and most likely suffer from having failed to become what is popularly known as a Fermi problem.

A Fermi problem is a question so designed that it generates a well judged proximate response. Elsewhere, in this blog – I have discussed how proximates are good enough to make decisions. Anyhow, what (Enrico) Fermi was good at and what Fermi problems are meant to do is to test how strong a set of assumptions are and how they bear out without the availability of much data.

I see this happening around me all the time, a good project manager has to in some sense answer Fermi problems everyday.

Why don’t people follow procedures when they have been explicitly laid out? Why don’t households opt for credit schemes which are to their obvious advantage? Why don’t risk-sharing designs work on the ground the way they do in development economic models? Is money supply endogenous? Will Lehman cause the next great depression? Why does income and saving vary across groups to which discrimination models don’t apply?

The great art to project management is unlearning the science of sufficient assumptions, it is to accept constant refinement and probably much more.