Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole; Zimbabwe’s Dilemma

By Simon Bere

HARARE – Given what currently obtains in Zimbabwe, I can guarantee you that the country’s economic recovery will take a lot more time than what most people project.

While the desire for a fast economic recovery is noble, we must not forget that our desires and intentions do not automatically metamorphose into reality.

Desires and ambitions require disciplined, synchronised action guided by the correct thinking.

It is metaeconomics that gives birth to economies and the quality of the metaeconomics determines the economic performance of every economy the same way plant and animal genes define the physical form and behaviour of the corresponding plants and animals. Therefore addressing the metaeconomics is the master key to a speedy return to stability.

In the case of Zimbabwe’s economy which has been in a bad state for two decades, we are dealing with a case of a complex problem.

Complex problems require more than basic subject matter knowledge and experience; they require thinking and in most cases, metathinking.

Metathinking is thinking about thinking.

Economic textbook theories help in dealing with tinkering with sneezing economies, not to bring a massive economic regeneration that is required for an economy which has gone into an economically degenerated state.

Success in this case requires at the barest minimum, a dynamic combination of systems thinking and strategic thinking, both of which are anchored in disciplined structured thinking.

Without integrated structured thinking, we might as well hand over the problem of restoring our economy to growth to the next generations.

This is as simple as that.

If we are to adopt a problem solving approach to returning Zimbabwe to prosperity and growth, then we already have great wisdom to apply from none other than one of the best problem solvers the world has seen; theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.

Here is one key to problem solving that he handed us down; “We cannot solve problems while thinking at the level at which we created them!”

Contrary to what many people think, this statement is not just a witty quote for brightening speeches and presentations.

Levels of thinking exist and can be demonstrated.

If we fail to solve any problem that require thinking, it shows we are not thinking at the right level to solve it. In case of Zimbabwe’s economy, solving the problem is not a problem in itself.

The biggest challenge we face is to climb to the right level in our thinking.

This level of thinking that is required already exist and is known but just not shared with the right people.

This misalignment between decision makers and those who can generate the solution required for successful return of the economy to prosperity is in fact another major challenge Zimbabwe faces.

The verdict is simple.

Without climbing to the minimum level required to solve the country’s economic problem, we are done. Levels of thinking have nothing to do with intelligence; it is purely a matter of being at the right level of thinking the same way aeroplanes and birds choose the right levels of height during their flights.

The question is, as a nation, are we thinking at the right level in order to successfully solve our economic problems and return our economy to sustained growth and prosperity?

The second piece of advice we received from the great Einstein was the two-step problem solving method; first understand the problem.

Secondly, generate the solution to the problem.

In other words, Einstein was warning us of the futility of trying to solve a problem that we don’t understand. Trying to solve a problem without understanding it is something that we specialise in especially in non-STEM environments.

Fully understanding the problems required tremendous amount of effort in thinking and research.

This is exactly why Albert Einstein said; “If I had one hour to defining the problem, I would spend 55 minutes on the problem and only five minutes on the solution.”

This must not be mistaken with being problem focussed.

Einstein meant spending five days putting his effort in understanding the problem because by understanding the problem he gets the solution.

I will summarise this by saying the solution is in the problem.

There is very little else so profound in problem solving than this very simple statement.

Coming to Zimbabwe, one would ask two questions around this principle; 1. Have we correctly and accurately defined the economic problem Zimbabwe faces? How much time have we, and are we, investing in defining the problem compared to what we are investing in trying to solve the problem?

One can argue that given our current results, the odds are that we investing way too much time and resources in a problem that we have not accurately defined and therefore do not understand.

Our economists and other experts would argue that we know the economic problems already, but is what we are calling the problem the real core problem?

In other words, are we defining the problem at the right level of thinking to be able to generate a solution that effectively and permanently solves the problem?

Another key idea is that problems breed like rats.

One problem, left unattended, will grow, mature and give birth to more problems which in turn, if left unattended, will reproduce and the cycle continues until we slide into much more complex problems.

The metaproblem is that we will often fail to closely track the development of and over time, we remain fixed on the original problem when in fact there might be other bigger and more complex problem that have been born by the original problem.

Those secondary problems become the major problems that will militate against any solutions for solving the original problem.

The legendary business philosopher and theorist Peter Drucker once said that there is no manager who is more dangerous than the one who prescribes the correct solution to the wrong problem.

In trying to solve our economic problems, are we not providing solutions to the wrong problems, leaving the real problems unscathed?

Are we not trying to kill the economic mouse while the economic monster continues to wreak havoc, tormenting us and taking us towards total economic doom?

Are we not tinkering with the inconsequential, while leaving unattended the real stuff that produces the decisive economic results that we desire?

Are we not using great tools for doing the wrong work and poor tools to do the right work?

Are we not taking the correct approach to the wrong destination?

Successfully solving our economic problem begins with having the correct meta-thory, theory, metathinking, philosophy and mindset.

Financial and physical resources are important yes, but they are further down in the hierarchy and syntax of what is required to effectively deal with situation.

How soon we can return our economy to sustained growth and prosperity is determined by how soon we figure out the correct metatheory, theory, philosophy and mindset for solving the current economic challenges and achieving the economic goals we have set for ourselves.

The master key is not a game of knowledge, academic qualifications and experience.

It is a game of thinking. It is a game of metaeconomics.

Bere is one of Zimbabwe’s leading economic analysts and critics. He can be contacted on simonbere@gmail.com

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