I love good science fiction for one thing – it has such a clear view on complex problems. I have often wondered why is it that people were so difficult to work with – spending more time in conflict than constructive endeavours. The answer came in a book, Eon, by Greg Bear. I shall quote a few paragraphs from the book.
There can be more than one ultimately desirable goal, and many equally valid ways to achieve those goals. Unfortunately, there are limited resources, and not everyone can follow the paths they want.
Often, conflicting sides are actually fighting for the same ultimate goal except that they are fighting to assert the appropriate path to take with the limited resources available. If resources were unlimited, everyone would just happily take their own paths of choice and see whether it led them towards the ultimate goal.
I thought about this tonight because I was visiting my belief that all problems of human society can be solved by technology given enough resources. That reminded me about what was said in the book, which I had just finished reading this afternoon. My belief holds true as long as there are enough resources to solve the problem. The trouble is that there rarely is enough time or money to do so.
So, every good engineer must learn how to juggle the limitations imposed by the problem on the solution.