Problem Solving


Reading Onscreen Vs On Printed Text

Most schools and colleges have gone completely digital with professors and teachers abandoning textbook assignments in favour of multimedia coursework and digital text.

However, studies show that reading several pages of text on printed paper is more effective than on the screen. Printed text reading improves the recall of minor details and also the understanding of the core content.

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Problem Solving

Reading on paper is better in terms of concentration and learning, as opposed to digital texts or TED talks. This is because people associate digital texts, podcasts and other multimedia courseware with casual social media, and apply less mental effort, as opposed to reading printed text. This phenomenon is known as the Shallowing Hypothesis.

While it seems that watching a Discovery Channel documentary or listening to a podcast is more engaging, the opposite is true in terms of content recall.

Trying to learn using digital media(digital text, audio and video) isn’t very effective due to :

  1. Diminished concentration levels.
  2. A tendency towards distractions or multitasking.
  3. An entertainment mindset.
  4. A lack of review notes or annotations.
  5. The inability to create a fixed reference point.
  1. Speed: Decisions and amendments are faster with the OODA loop. It is an essential mental toolbox and after practice, requires only a few seconds.
  2. Being comfortable with uncertainty: Uncertainty is part of life, and many decisions are made with incomplete information and a certain amount of risk. A calculated decision based on a scientific mental model minimizes uncertainty or makes it irrelevant.
  3. Unpredictability: People fail to see the logic of your decision if it is fast, and makes you appear unpredictable and formless, increasing your allure.
  • Gödel’s theorems: They indicate that any mental model that we try to work with will omit parts of information and we have to use Bayesian updating (Continuously update the confidence in your beliefs as you come across new information) to bring it in line with reality.
  • Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: One cannot fully know the position and the velocity of an object at the same time. We can either know its location or its speed.
  • Second Law of Thermodynamics: In any closed system, things move towards chaos and energy becomes disorganized (entropy).
The OODA Loop: A Military Mental Model

The OODA Loop is a four-step method to swiftly make effective decisions in tough and high-stakes situations. It is created by military leaders and war strategists who work in extreme situations and routinely face drastic scenarios.

The OODA Loop stands for:

  1. Observe
  2. Orient
  3. Decide
  4. Act

It is called a loop as it is intended to be repeated until the conflict is taken care of.

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

Orientation is a basic step but is overlooked by many. We have to orient ourselves and recognize any barriers that might be an interference in the OODA loop.

Orientation takes an objective, unbiased look at the world, free from shortcuts and mental models that interfere with our thinking. Paying attention to our own assumptions and biases like old habits, ignoring new information, and even our own cultural traditions is recommended to orient ourselves towards reality.

The first step is to observe the situation in a comprehensive and accurate manner, taking into account the visible information. A fighter pilot, for instance, can observe the following:

  1. How is the situation immediately affecting me?
  2. What is affecting my opponent?
  3. What could affect me or my opponent later?
  4. What predictions can be made here?

Similarly, a doctor meeting a patient for the first time has to observe and gather information, which apart from the visible symptoms, also means verbal cues, body language and diagnostic tests.

  • OODA Loop is a nimble technique in tune with the ever-changing environment around us and has to be applied in our daily decisions.
  • It is a formless technique that self-improvises and adapts to the real world.
  • We will start to make better decisions and increase our awareness, moving us towards our full potential.

Deductive Destruction is a way to orient yourself by paying attention to your own biases and assumptions, and replace them with objective, fundamental thought processes.

One has to pull things apart (dissection and analysis) and then put them back together (synthesis) in new ways so that new ideas and actions are revealed.

Enacting decisions is different from the deciding part. One puts the decisions to test by taking action.

The results indicate the quality of the decision and the OODA loop cycles back into a feedback loop, where successful decisions are repeated and bad ones are improvised.

After the groundwork has been laid by the previous steps of observing and orienting, one has to decide, creating a decision field to spot any flaws and decoys.

The first conclusion isn’t always right, and we cannot make the same decision frequently.

Humans falsely believe that we process information in an incremental, linear way.

  • The Anchoring Effect suggests that the first pieces of information are weighted in a much heavier way than subsequent pieces.
  • The Empathy gap makes people fail to understand just how deep each separate piece of information is, viewing it just like a dry statistic.
Predictions Vs Reality

In a comprehensive study, many people were asked about the time taken for them to make decisions regarding their life partner, their choice of beverage, and evaluation of various kinds of data. In all of the cases, there was a false belief in the individuals that they would utilize more information than what they eventually did.

Some on-the-spot gut instinct judgements are often remarkably accurate, and can also save time.

On the flip side, many judgements based on a simple observation snowball into a series of missteps due to the problem of self-fulfilling prophecy, where confirmation bias makes the person see the very thing that is already believed as true.

Direct practice is not the opposite of deep understanding.

A naive approach to mastering, for example, physics problems, is to continue practising exam questions. But practising limited exam questions is not the same as the range of problems you will find in the real world. To solve real problems, you need a deep structure for understanding the problems, not just memorised solution patterns that you cannot apply.

Directness in learning

If you have a concrete objective (speaking a language, passing an exam), how you practice should match the intended use.

An extension of this idea is that learning broadly is a bad idea - that you won't remember "useless" knowledge. But this is false. Having an extensive knowledge base makes learning easier.

We tend to think of skills reasonably broadly, but our skills are very specific.

Direct learning minimizes the chance that we will focus on learning information unrelated to our actual goal.

In improving your knowledge base, you're not optimising for a specific goal, but all future learning goals.

  • Read more textbooks and less popular books.
  • Take more online classes on fundamental topics.
  • When you can't build higher, go deeper. You may be hitting the ceiling with your improvement in a specific area. The only way to get better is to do more foundational work.

The magical "intuition" for hard subjects we notice in people like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman is owed to their extensive knowledge base they could draw from.

The broader and more varied the situations you need to perform in, the broader your knowledge base should be to help you think better.

The Pareto principle states that 20% of your activities (even lesser) deliver 80% results (even more) in almost every area of your life.

Remove any obstacles that may distract you from practicing your sub-skill. Television is the biggest culprit, followed by smartphones.

Learning something new will come with some frustration. That will be a time to safeguard yourself from any distractions so you remain focused on learning the skill.

Becoming Reasonably Good
There is a difference between becoming an expert vs becoming reasonably good at something:  An expert means reaching the lop level in one's field. Being reasonably good at something means you have moved from 'grossly incompetent,' and can now handle that activity reasonably well. If your goal is to have a reasonable understanding of some field, you can achieve your learning goal in 20 hours.
Practice for 20 Hours

It is not humanly possible to practice all in a twenty-hour stretch.

A distributed practice learning method is achievable. It would roughly mean 45 minutes of practice for a period of thirty days in a row.

For instance, writing every evening for 30 minutes can give you a reward of a 25 000-word book in a 5 - 6 week period.

The major obstacle in learning anything new is not intellectual - it is emotional.

The fear of sounding stupid stops us. In reality, you can learn anything if you wish to with a little daily practise over a repeated period of time.

You don't need to become an expert before you start to learn any sub-set of the major skill. You just need to learn enough, so you can self-correct when you make mistakes.

Brian Herbert

“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice”.

  • Break the skill into various small parts, remembering that every big skill is a collection of many sub-skills.
  • Identify the essential sub-skills needed to give you the maximum advantage.
  • Practice the most important part that you have discovered, using the 80:20 principle in your learning.

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