Published: June 01, 2022 • 2 min read
This is a response to Ben Kuhn’s ‘Think Real Hard.’ Ben starts by sharing a problem-solving checklist from scientist Richard Feynman:
From a mind like Feynman’s, this can feel insulting. Of course you wrote down the solution– you’re a genius!
In this post, I’d like to explain how I’ve used this advice to solve hard problems.
I sometimes get stuck. Standing still, facing an un-Googleable problem, one nobody on my team knows how to solve. Stuck after I’ve tried not staying stuck.
My solution? Think hard.
I grab a pen and a large artist’s sketchpad. At the top, I title my problem: “People Aren’t Responding to our Demo” (or whatever).
Then I sit and force myself to think about the problem nonstop for at least thirty minutes. I use the mind-map brainstorming technique, but any kind of tool you like will work.
Sit and think. That’s it. If I have to walk away, I trust that R-Mode thinking will keep the wheels turning.
I’m not sure if this always works. But I can recall a dozen times where it has produced an insight, usually in the last few minutes. That insight might be “We’re talking to the wrong people,” or “this missing feature is distracting the audience.” I’m no longer stuck.
Workplaces are distracting. In today’s workplace, thinking about just one thing, for any amount of time, is rare.
Yet workers produce value because most problems aren’t hard. Emoji or SVG? Accept or reject the story? These can be solved with minimal attention.
When you encounter a hard problem and use this technique, it’s something like hysterical strength. You’re just applying all of the power your mind actually has.
Hard problems are the realm of the elite. The only way around them is through, to think hard.
Thanks again to Ben Kuhn for inspiring this post.
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Blog of Jake Worth, software engineer in Maine.