Problem Solving


Clarifying your thinking

When we are struggling with a complex topic, it can be powerful to talk someone else through the idea, step by step.

This principle of explaining complex ideas as simply as possible is called 'Explain Like I'm Five.' Explaining concepts helps to clarify our thinking. It is a process that ultimately helps us to be understood.

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Problem Solving

Take a moment of self-reflection. We have many vague and confusing thoughts and feelings that we don't spend the time to sort out, so they mostly stay that way.

Observing yourself in a neutral way is the first step to clearer thinking. Make yourself comfortable, then try to notice the flow of your thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgmental way.

What are you claiming, and why? For example, thinking if it is better to become a vegetarian or a vegan, and why or why not it is better.

Write out a numbered list of statements followed by a conclusion. The statements should present a line of reasoning that justifies your final conclusion. Then, ask two questions about each statement.

  • Why should someone accept this particular claim?
  • What follows from this claim once it's been accepted?

Simple conclusions can become more complex and revealing. For example, if you believe that it is better to be a vegetarian but don't eat vegetarian, it suggests that you don't believe your own reasons or that you don't find your reasons compelling.

Clarifying your thinking will strip away oversimplifications and replace them with an honest acknowledgement. It is by repeatedly questioning the why and what of our claims that we can hope to tear away the confusion and self-justification of our thoughts.

Consider on what basis you can justify any claims. You may rely on external evidence, personal preferences or experiences. All of them will at some stage point to our assumptions we accept as fundamental.

Our assumptions are unexamined ideas. They are vital as they underpin our thinking. However, sometimes we don't share the same assumptions with others and may need to spell them out.

When it comes to clarifying your thinking, differentiate between what follows from your assumptions and the status of those assumptions:

  • Any line of thinking begins with certain assumptions you take as a given.
  • A process of analysis can show where your assumptions lead.
  • Different ways of reasoning based on differing assumptions may lead to different outcomes.
  • It is useful to spell out your own and other people's key assumptions.
  • If you're open-minded, you can find common assumptions and challenge faulty ones.

The most valuable thing about clearly presenting the thinking behind a point of view is the willingness to participate in a reasoned exchange of ideas.

In principle, it suggests you're prepared to:

  • Justify your position.
  • Listen to, and learn from other perspectives.
  • Accept that you might have to reconsider your opinion or change your mind.
The best ideas come to those who wait

Many of us think that our creativity comes from our first ideas. We assume that finding creative solutions slow down over time.

This assumption is wrong, research suggests. The best ideas come to those who wait. Patience and perseverance will lead to more innovative solutions.

For any problem, the more apparent solutions will be discovered first, perhaps because you have encountered it previously. Generating the initial ideas feels very rewarding. Further ideas will come slower and require much more effort. This gives the impression that your creativity is about to drop off a cliff.

In reality, you may have fewer ideas, but those ideas may increase in quality. If you can work through the frustration, you may find a truly innovative idea.

A simple rule of thumb is that if you want three good ideas, you should probably generate 20.

Implications for the 3:20 rule:

  • Managers and leaders can gauge the team's general beliefs about brainstorming. They can correct the illusion that creativity drops after a certain amount of time.
  • They can budget much more time and resources for the idea generation process.
The High Achievers Syndrome

We all want to achieve certain goals. We want to graduate from college, learn an extra language, learn another instrument, write a book.

In order to achieve these things, we need to take action. But, action taken without a good reason is wasting a huge amount of time. This is high-achievers syndrome - when you believe doing more will help you gain more. It won't.

Anything beyond what you need to do as a minimum to achieve your goal is wasteful.

Extra effort does not continue to give steady growth. As you move closer to perfection, improvement slows down even if you put in more effort. In other words, we can arrive at a point when the extra effort fails to show up in results.

Take weight loss. Imagine you want to lose 100 pounds. You avoid sugar, count calories, and it yields big results at first. You lose two pounds a week. But, subsequent efforts yield smaller and smaller results. You then add more exercise or more research, only to find tiny returns.

When you plateau, doing more won't work. Pushing through the dip by maximising what you're already doing will help you get a tiny bit further.

There are two enemies of execution:

  • Inaction. It breeds doubt and fear and stops you from achieving your goals.
  • Perfectionism. It causes anxiety, tension, and stress.

The best place is just above "good enough," where you strive for perfection but accept that it's impossible.

Adhering To Long-Term Goals

There is a strategy we can use to guide us in making better decisions and reduce discrepancies when faced with challenges. The If/Then Tactic also known as Matros's Strategy uses the power of anticipating future scenarios and creating concrete plans for when we finally face the moment.

It allows us to work on our patience and perseverance by focusing on the things we will do rather than those we won't do and it makes the tactic powerful and effective.

When we start applying the If/Then tactic to our personal lives or even while working we can prevent succumbing to stress and easily think of responses towards different situations.

Envision yourself in different scenarios that you can think of and jot down the plans or actions to be taken so that you will feel less anxious. Example: If I am going to start eating healthy then I have to stop eating junk food.

People are biased whether they are conscious of it or not. Studies show that even people who deem they are not discriminatory when put in situations where they must act quickly, hidden biases can often dictate their actions and override their intentions.

When having vulnerable decision points the If/Then tactic gives us an advanced plan of action instead of making rash decisions. It helps create an impulse buffer between frustration and one's decision-making process.

Working with our hands

Activities that use our hands relieve stress and help solve problems:

  1. Using our hands on a task that doesn’t demand much cognitively gives the mind a chance to relax and rest.
  2. When our brain is “offline,” it gives it a chance to work on problems behind the scenes.
  3. There is something primal about it. We have actively used our hands as part of our daily survival for thousands of years.

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