Optimal solution – definition and meaning

The term optimal solution refers to the best solution for a company to solve a problem or achieve its aims. The term is common in business. However, we can also use it in economics, for military options, mathematics, and in other situations. It is an alternative approach that provides the best outcome for a situation.

An optimal solution uses resources most efficiently and effectively. It also yields the greatest possible return, considering the circumstances.

Any attempt to make even slight changes to the solution just makes it worse.

In most cases, we can only reach this type of solution by trial and error. In other words, we rarely reach it by statistical analysis or using formulae.

The term refers to a solution that is either the least costly or most profitable solution.

According to The Law Dictionary, the optimal solution is:

“The solution that best utilizes available resources to achieve the company’s aims. No amount of tinkering will improve such a solution.”

“Such solutions are difficult to ascertain statistically and are normally generated through trial and error.”

Optimal solution
An optimal solution is the best possible one for a situation.

Globally vs. locally optimal solution

When no other feasible solutions are offering better results, we have a globally optimal solution. In other words, nothing better exists anywhere.

When there are no better solutions ‘in the vicinity,’ we have a locally optimal solution. In other words, there might be better ones far away, but there are none nearby.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the word ‘optimal‘ appeared in the English language in 1890. It originated from Latin ‘Optimus’, which means ‘the best.’ Etymology is the study of the origin of words and how their meanings evolved.

Scientists commonly use the term. Read this quote by Prof. Sriram Subramanian, who works at the University of Sussex in England:

“In our device we manipulate objects in mid-air and seemingly defy gravity. Here we individually control dozens of loudspeakers to tell us an optimal solution to generate an acoustic hologram that can manipulate multiple objects in real-time without contact.”

Prof. Subramanian was talking about the creation of a tractor beam using sound waves.

Non-optimal solution

The term ‘non-optimal solution‘ is sarcastic. We use it when we think a solution is the worst one possible. In fact, we think it is an incredibly stupid way to solve a problem.

Webster-Dictionary.org makes the following comment regarding the meaning of the term when we use it sarcastically:

“This term is generally used in deadpan sarcasm, as its impact is greatest when the person speaking looks completely serious.”