As evacuation picked up pace in Afghanistan amidst scenes of chaos, bomb blasts and misery, with security outside the airport falling apart and the future of Afghan allies increasingly blurred, torrential questions came (and continue to come) lashing out at President Biden: ‘Why and how could his administration make a botch of the situation there & “abandon” Afghans allies who stood shoulder to shoulder with US forces in fighting insurgency?’ Should the US have challenged Talban’s supremacy in lieu of focusing squarely on getting her people out? While some may argue that the weeks leading up to Kabul’s fall were marked by complacency etc., the US diplomats and army chiefs would rebuff it with information suggesting otherwise.


Of course, there can never be a sure-fire answer to war-related situations, but let’s assume the officials did become complacent, and, weren’t even aware of being so, to compound the problem. If that were so, what safeguards might raise red flags to prevent such unintended, unconscious complacency, or lack of good judgment, or something else, assuming (but not claiming) it was the case, in situations fraught with ambiguity?


The purpose of this blog is neither to defend president Biden, nor put him in a pillory. We have our armchair generals (& his political opponents) who will leave no stone unturned in taking care of the latter. I intend to discuss primarily the kind of thinking skill needed to address complex situations whose outcomes remain ambiguous until too late. I also propose to underscore educators’ role in instilling this skill in kids as we teach and prepare them to be ready to step into the world that’s laden with multifarious complexities, and, opportunities to navigate through those complexities.


Validity in Qualitative Research


To this end, I would like to draw on Qualitative research method’s key feature that ascertains validity of its findings. Design in QR involves “tacking” back and forth between the different components of the design, assessing goal implications, theories, methods, and validity threats for one another. Typically, a qualitative researcher challenges his/her own assumptions so that those assumptions don’t color inference. QR method equips researchers with a subtle tool to increase validity:

  • How might the results/conclusions be wrong?
  • What are the plausible alternative interpretations and validity threats to these, and how will you deal with these?
  • How can data that you have, or that you could potentially collect, support or challenge your ideas about what’s going on?
  • Why should we believe your results?


Taken together, these researchers inspect their inference by asking, ‘How might I be wrong?’ I reckon this mode of thinking merits wide discussion.


Creativity and Problem Finding


We live in an age of debunking. It’s energizing to shoot down someone or something and sometimes it’s a good thing (Gardner, 2020). But what hasn’t been given due credence is to ‘find’ problem in one’s own perspective such that the probability of reaching the desired outcome is significantly increased. When education starts to nurture a culture that encourages individuals to be flexible to inspect their own perspective, find problem, it will chart a different direction for the future.


‘Problem finding’ skills have increasingly gained credence in theories of creativity. While one may easily identify problem solving behaviors, e.g., persistence, self-efficacy, motivation, and so forth, what gets bypassed is the problem finding skill that’s indispensable to problem solving as it encourages individuals to imagine what if ‘X’ happens, or what if ‘Y’ doesn’t? The ability to define and redefine problems is one of the two main aspects of intelligence relevant to creativity (Sternberg & Lubert, 1991). Runco M. (1994) argues why problem finding skills should be integrated into definitions of giftedness and recognized by educators.


I think not just in a severe conflict or war situations, but also in everyday life where sundry complexities abound and surround humans, this kind of a ‘thinking disposition’ empower the young to use effectively their reasoning and navigate their way through personal as well as professional quandaries that could be ambiguity ridden. Enculturating such thinking behaviors warrantees schools’ top priority and our schools need to make a surge of effort in this direction.


Last week, Fareed Zakaria (WP) explained, “the lower level officers tend to see and project the bright side of a scenario.” While it’s good to see the bright side of things in life and be grateful, we need to learn to question assumptions & possibilities, and envision scenarios that might prove us ‘wrong,’ only to revisit our plans and fine tune them. For most part, alas, we have come to somehow understand it’s always about ‘proving ourself right!’


Research questions that emerged during this blog: Why do we hasten reaching understandings? What role does tolerance to ambiguity play in problem solving?



Maxwell, J. (2004). A. Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach.

Mark, A. R. (1994). Problem finding and problem solving: Problem finding, creativity, and giftedness

Valerie, S. (2020).

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