As a developer in the Computer Science field, new problems arise each day. Some days can be more challenging than others, where problems add up, or new complexities appear. Another cause for increased difficulty in problems solving is due to being bounded by “rule ruts”. These ruts are instructions that we hold onto as we solve problems. The issue with this is that it causes a narrowmindedness in how we approach issues and may block creativity or new solutions.
Break the Rule Ruts
This summer, I read a wonderful book that describes new methods of problem solving. The book, titled How to Think like Einstein by Scott Thorpe uses Einstein as the example to show that his problemsolving ability declined as his knowledge grew. It contradicts what most people might assume. For Einstein and countless other brilliant people “Innovation was highest when knowledge was lowest.” How does this happen? The author mentions “People willing to break rules solve impossible problems.” I find this statement endearing, for although we frequently follow the same routine in life, to solve the toughest of problems, breaking our routine is necessary. As I grow in a field of constant learning, I break my routine by approaching my problems with a unique perspective each time.
Choosing a Problem
Reading How to Think like Einstein showed me a new way to outline a guide for problem solving. The plan I outlined below from the book has helped me rethink solving problems.
The first step is to select a problem to solve. A great way to do this task is by creating a problem list. The problem list helps further define the problem, why it must be solved, and provide possible next steps or actions.
Problem

Why It Must Be Solved

Next Steps/Solutions




After creating a problem list, it necessary to break down the problem further to find the solutions or patterns that emerge. Some questions to consider are 1. Why the problem must be solved, 2. What are the best solutions so far, and 3. What are higherlevel needs.
Initial Problem Statement
(25 words or less)


Why Must the Problem be Solved?
(What good will come of solution? What happens if there is no solution, is the problem fun?)


Old Answers (What are your current best solutions)


My Rules
(What is the “right” way to solve the problem)


Better Problem
(Define an enabling version of the problem.)


Problem Hierarchy
(what are higherlevel needs?)


Resize the Problem


Common Limitations


Simplify
(define a simple version of a problem?)


New Attitude
(who could you be to solve this problem?)


Idea Lists
The more ideas we can generate, the more quality ideas come to fruition. As we increase the list, even the bad ideas are recorded because the writing of ideas will serve as the marker for more ideas to come.
Idea

Reason Idea Will Work

Reasons Idea Won’t Work




Now that you have chosen a problem with possible solutions, check out my second blog on How to Think like Einstein to find the rules of your problem to solve.