Work backwards - Deepstash



Get an account to save ideas & make your own & organize them how you wish.



Think Like a Scientist: How to Solve Everyday Problems

Work backwards

Working backwards is useful when the final result is clear but the initial portion of a problem is obscure.

Reverse engineering allows you to notice patterns your brain normally ignores.


This is a professional note extracted from an online article.

Read more efficiently

Save what inspires you

Remember anything


Think Like a Scientist: How to Solve Everyday Problems

Think Like a Scientist: How to Solve Everyday Problems


Key Ideas

Systematic approach

Most people jump straight from finding a problem to attempting to solve it.

Having a systematic approach to how you deal with problems, as opposed to just going by gut and feelings, can make a big difference in how you creatively find answers to your obstacles.

Study the problem first

Detectives and investigators use the process. They ask both obvious and unthinkable questions.

Get close and collect information about how the problem is manifesting.  Understand where the problem does and doesn’t happen, when the problem started, and how often the problem occurs to generate critical insight for the problem-solving effort.

Question for great answers

  • Don’t look for solutions immediately; Keep redefining the problem until you arrive at the root cause.
  • Don’t try to guess the solution; try to understand how the obstacles, or challenges manifest first.
  • Gather data to analyze all potential root causes.
  • Consider all options, regardless of how irrelevant they currently appear.
  • Find a way to connect the dots. Make better analogies. One good analogy is worth three hours of discussion.

Break the obstacle down

  • A problem broken down is half way solved. E.g: if you don’t have enough money to get a mortgage, you could divide the obstacle into “too little income,” “high expenses,” and “expectations of future house.”
  • Address each category on its own.
  • Once you have categories, it’s very easy to continue digging.
  • Finally, execute the best action plan.

The point of analysis is to never accept statements at face value, including your own.

A “could” mindset

In many situations when people encounter a problem, they tend to default to what they should do instead of asking what they could do.

Could helps you think outside an existing problem to generate more creative solutions.

Should narrows your thinking process to one answer, the one that seems most obvious.

Don’t rush the thinking process

Concentrating harder won’t force that ‘eureka moment’ you need.

Instead, your best option might be to step away from the problems and get do something unrelated to the project.

When you stop thinking about a task, your brain continues working on the problem in the background.

The power of the incubation period

For many years, scientists have found that amazing ideas, solutions to problems and obstacles often come to people when they aren’t actively trying to develop a solution.

The incubation period works because your brain gets to take a break from everything distracting you.

Work backwards

Working backwards is useful when the final result is clear but the initial portion of a problem is obscure.

Reverse engineering allows you to notice patterns your brain normally ignores.

It pays to sleep on it

In many cases, when you are tempted to stay up late to find a solution to an obstacle, you might be better sleeping on it.

The brain makes better connections when you are asleep, allowing you to make new and useful associations between unrelated ideas.

Your brain might solve the problem for you while you’re fast asleep.


Practical ways to use First Principles Thinking
  • If you’re starting a business, use first principles to build a product or service that’s fundamentally better than the competition.
  • If your day is too busy, first princip...
Elon Musk

"Well, I do think there’s a good framework for thinking. It is physics. You know, the sort of first principles ..."

Elon Musk
First principle vs. analog thinking
  • First principles thinking: actively questioning every assumption you think you know about a given problem or scenario  and then creating new knowledge and solutions from scratch. 
  • Reasoning by analogy: building knowledge and solving problems based on prior assumptions, beliefs and widely held ‘best practices’ approved by majority of people.
Elon Musk's 3 steps Principle Thinking
  1. Identify and define your current assumptions;
  2. Breakdown the problem into its fundamental principles;
  3. Create new solutions from scratch.

one more idea

Albert Einstein

"If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minute..."

Albert Einstein
First Principles Thinking
We normally use existing methodologies and analogies to solve problems, which is essentially short-cut thinking.
Engaging in 'First Principles Thinking' makes us discard existing knowledge, and get down to the essentials, exploring on our own and questioning everything. This uncharted terrain takes us to the absolute truth which we call the First Principle. When we understand the core of the problem, we can build creative and unique solutions.
    Using The First Principles Thinking

    The First Principles Thinking can be applied in our daily life:

    • Starting a business requires first principles thinking to build a fundamentally better product or service.
    • On a busy day, first principles thinking makes us do what's essential while not being bogged down with time constraints.
    • Applying the first principles toward good health will make us feel considerably better than obeying some diet or exercise routine that we hate.

    one more idea

    Not reaching your goals

    Take the goal you didn’t achieve and try a different approach. Doing the same thing over and over to achieve your goal is the definition of insanity.

    Your heroes miss their goals too. ...

    Being criticized

    You can’t please everybody that you meet in life.

    Critics are not all bad. You can learn things about yourself from them too. The solution is to learn from criticism, not be afraid of it.

    Messing up your career

    See career challenges for what they are: an opportunity to try something different

    If your career never got messed up, then you’d probably stay in your comfort-zone for your entire life and never try something different.

    11 more ideas

    Restrict yourself

    Research suggests placing self-imposed limitations can boost creativity. 

    It forces your brain to come up with creative solutions to finish a project around the parameters you’ve ...

    Re-conceptualize the problem

    Instead of thinking of a cut-and-dry end goal to certain situations, creative people sit back and examine the problem in different ways before beginning to work.

    If you find yourself stagnating by focusing on generic problems, try to re-conceptualize the problem by focusing on a more meaningful angle.

    For example: Instead of thinking “What would be something cool to paint?” rather ask, “What sort of painting evokes the feeling of loneliness that we all encounter after a break-up?”

    Create psychological distance

    Creating “psychological” distance may be useful for breaking through a creative block.

    Try to imagine your creative task as being disconnected and distant from your current position/location - this may make the problem more accessible and can encourage higher level thinking.

    7 more ideas

    The Incubation Period

    That’s a scientifically recognized phenomenon where an idea is unconsciously worked out by the brain. It often happens when we are trying to solve a hard problem and take a break to do an...

    The “Incubation Period” Mechanisms
    • Eliciting new knowledge: when you stop problem-solving, your brain keeps working on it in the background and may come across memories you may have ignored when you were actively trying to think about the problem.
    • Selective forgetting: an incubation period weakens the unhelpful solutions that are distracting you. 
    • Problem restructuring: stepping away from the problem lets your brain reorganize the problem.
    Using The Incubation Period

    When you're struggling with a problem or decision take a break from thinking hard.

    Some studies say an incubation period as short as 10 minutes might be enough to gain a new perspective. But that’s not unanimous, so you might want to experiment to discover what works for you. 

    Pamela Slim
    “We are made to create. We feel useful when we create. We release our ‘stuckness’ when we create. We reinvent our liv..."
    Pamela Slim
    Creativity is complex

    It means producing something novel or original, evaluating, solving problems, whether on paper, on stage, in a laboratory or even in the shower.

    Knowing how to think

    Geniuses know “how” to think, instead of “what” to think.

    People who are more creative can simultaneously engage brain networks that don’t typically work together.

    7 more ideas

    Remain objective

    Great problem solvers approach each new problem as though it were brand new. 

    That way they can apply a specific solution to the problem instead of a fix that may go only partway.

    List the obstacles

    Great problem solvers take a high-level view of the issues involved and jot down a list of all the potential factors that could get in the way of a solution. 

    Identify the opportunity

    So many times great opportunities are wrapped up inside simple problems.

    The problem at hand may be symptomatic of bigger problems with your systems or perhaps your industry.

    5 more ideas

    Develop The Habit Of Thinking Big

    ... by trial and error and consistently analyzing things related to big ideas, until you've practiced enough your brain can easily establish unusual correlati...

    Think Like a Child

    The key to shifting your perspective and developing the habit of thinking big involves stepping outside of yourself and into another persona — essentially becoming someone who will help you see things bigger, better and more creatively.

    You must also think from the perspective of having no limitations or fears and ask big questions persistently until the right answer comes to mind.

    Barriers To Thinking Big
    • Limiting habits: procrastination, immediatism, negative thinking, making excuses, solving insignificant problems, over-analyzing, perfectionism.
    • People criticize and judge the unknown and big ideas are often so.
    • Fears of failure and the unknown restrict us to small thoughts, decisions, and actions. 
    • Lack of time turns us into small thinkers and immediatists. 
    • Lack of incentives robs you of the motivation to stretch yourself emotionally or physically. 

    13 more ideas

    Albert Einstein
    “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minute..."
    Albert Einstein
    The frames we use to see the world

    The frames we create for what we experience both inform and limit the way we think.  And most of the time we are not aware of the frames we are using.

    Being able to question and shift your frame of reference is an important key to enhancing your imagination because it reveals completely different insights.

    Reframing problems
    It takes effort, attention, and practice to see the world around you in a brand-new light.

    You can practice reframing by physically or mentally changing your point of view, by seeing the world from others’ perspectives, and by asking questions that begin with “why.”