Problem Solving


Once you gained some understanding in a field, follow citation trails. There will often be dozens of other papers cited and can result in an extensive reading list. Thus it is helpful to limit yourself to the few most promising ones.

Citations need two factors: frequency and relevance. Works cited more often are more central to a topic. To ensure that you don't spend too much time going down rabbit holes, aim for breadth-first.

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Problem Solving

  • Sci-Hub is helpful to get access to papers. Alternatively, emailing authors can give you access to papers, but it tends to slow reading down.
  • Google Books can help you find specifics in a particular book.
  • Map out the main arguments and players.
  • Don't be hesitant to take courses first. It will provide a background on the topic.
  • Experts are very willing to talk to you.

Once you know the topic, find the expert vocabulary for your topic. Experts use precise words. They have chosen words carefully to point out minor distinctions in ideas.

Wikipedia is a good starting point to find the ordinary language that points to expert concepts. Type your idea in Wikipedia as you see it, then note the words used by experts. Then use these keywords to identify key works.

Research is open-ended

There's always something more to read that can potentially give you more insight. There is seldom a point that will tell you you're done.

Because research is open-ended, it can be hard to keep up It is helpful to decide upfront how much time you want to commit to research. Also, ensure making the end goal something about the information, such as writing an essay or report.

A classic problem in research is to forget what you've read or where you've read it. Some people use Zettlekasten, a sophisticated note-taking system.

Another system is Caplan's approach, where you highlight the sections you may need to revisit later. Then make a new document that will contain your notes and quotes as well as your summary of the work. The goal is to have a map of the area, so you know where to find it again.

Once you've found the keywords and some main papers or authors everybody cites on the topic, try to find reviews.

  • Literature reviews qualitatively review all the papers on a topic.
  • Meta-analyses try to collect effects from multiple papers to give a quantitative answer.
  • Textbooks are used to present the field the way experts want a beginner to learn about it.

It can be helpful to type a keyword with the words "review" or "meta-analysis" in Google Scholar. For textbooks, type a keyword in Amazon and limit the search for textbooks.

The reasonable person is often associated with the law of accidents.

When determining if someone is legally responsible for causing an injury, courts want to know if the person causing the injury acted with the care of a reasonable person. But theorists often remark that the reasonable person is not the average person. In turn, this sparks 'ideal' theories of a reasonable person.

Legal standards would often ask what the 'reasonable person' would do. But we should consider who this person is.

The reasonable person is not the average person as average people can do unreasonable things; neither is it the ideal person. Instead, the reasonable person represents someone common as well as good.

How ordinary people judge reasonableness is mostly neglected. The standard of 'reasonable care' might be viewed as the standard level of care or a good level of care or both.

An experiment suggested that our conception of reasonableness is informed by thinking about what people actually do and what people should do.

Reasonableness is not an empirical or statistical measure of how average members of the public think, feel, or behave … Rather, reasonableness is a normative measure of ways in which it is right for persons to think, feel, or behave …

Acknowledging the relevance of statistical considerations offers progressive implications: when we want to include personal characteristics in reasonable-person analyses, should it include age, gender, race, etc.? For example, apparently sexist remarks. Women may understand certain remarks in the workplace differently from men.

When the law elaborates on reasonableness, it often suggests statistical considerations.

Historically, courts referred to the 'reasonable person and the 'ordinary' person, or otherwise, the 'ideal average prudent person'.

Failure is part of the learning process and a good leader understands that it cannot be a sunny day every day.

The team members are not insulated from failure but are given the space and support to create their own path towards success.

Taking complete ownership and leading by example makes for a more independent team, as it instils a certain autonomy in the team members.

They are now not just performing certain tasks or following instructions but can respond to any unexpected development as they all have a sense of responsibility. Any potential problem benefits from ‘second-order thinking’ and is noticeable before it turns serious.

Leaders become a scapegoat when things go southwards, as there is a general assumption that everything is their responsibility, so every problem is their own fault. This leads to ‘learned helplessness’, where we ignore our own responsibility and blame others.

Taking the analogy of a ship, if something goes wrong, everyone including the captain is at risk, and is also equally responsible for the problem and for finding a potential solution. One cannot sit back and let others scramble, or blame the captain.

The work of Problem Preventers is invisible, as they seem relaxed, go home on time, and need lots of time to think. They don’t experience much conflict as they already prevent the same. The invisibility of the work they do leads to a wrong perception of them.

Problem Solvers are not united towards any clear goal, but make use of the fundamental flaw in most organisations: Rewarding the solving of problems. They let things go wrong and then step in to fix them, creating visibility. This becomes a zero-sum game after wasting resources and energy.

Go For The Long Voyage

Short-term benefits of firefighting (solving problems as they come) will be visible, but when a manager plays the long game, they think of the entire life cycle of the project, and the organization as a whole.

Preventing problems before they arise may not be as visible as solving problems, but is the right, proactive approach.

  • Understanding a system provides something comprehensible to use as a starting point.
  • It makes it possible to come up with something more interesting or useful. If you try to start a creative effort from nothing, you’ll end up with mere chaos.

The concept of jootsing shows us that constraints and restrictions are essential for creativity.

Most of us say we want to be creative—and we want the people we work with and for to be creative. The concept of jootsing reveals why we often end up preventing that from happening. Creativity is impossible without in some way going against rules that exist for a good reason.

Jootsing means “jumping out of the system."

Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett describes the process of understanding a system in order to step outside of it as “jootsing,” using a term coined by Douglas Hofstadter.

  • You need to permit a lot of exploration, including ideas that don’t work out.
  • You also need to permit the making of mistakes if you want to foster creativity, because that often ends up leading to new discoveries.
Breaking down the creative process
  • Acquire a deep understanding of a specific system and the rules it functions with.
  • Take a step outside of that system and look for something surprising that destabilizes its rules.
  • Use what you find as the basis for making something new and creative.

Limitations are essential because they give us a starting point and a shape to work against.

We need to study things that interest us; otherwise, it will be hard to make much progress.

Learning is a highly personal process. You need to know yourself and how you learn best. Use the resources and techniques that you like and enjoy, even if they are not scientifically-speaking the most effective.

Focused and Diffuse Mode

Focused and diffuse modes provide two models for how we develop, elaborate, deepen and broaden connections. Both methods are important.

  • The focused mode of learning is about bringing related concepts together into a unit, called a chunk. 
  • The diffuse mode operates through a wider net of connecting general ideas across different fields. We use this diffuse mode while we sleep, exercise or daydream.

Learning how to learn is a meta-skill. It is a critical skill for everyone who needs to pick up and master new concepts frequently.

Understanding what is learning and how our memory works will help you understand why certain techniques work and how to use and adapt the techniques to your advantage.

Top-down and bottom-up learning

Top-down learning is understanding the big picture. It allows you to put the main ideas into a big-picture map to understand how the information fits together.

Bottom-up learning, called "chunking" describes pieces of information that are linked together through meaning or use. Much of learning is developing a sufficient repository of these chunks.

Regression is not uncommon

Regressing or getting blocked when learning is not that uncommon, as your brain remaps a concept.

Skipping ahead may help. Take a break, sleep, and exercise, to give your brain time to put the pieces in order again.

Thomas Mann

"Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject."

Spaced repetition describes the idea of reviewing new concepts at intervals that get spaced further and further apart.

For example, learning a concept in the morning, reviewing it 8 hours later, then recheck the next day. Reviews then get spaced out 3-4 days, then a week, a month, then again a few months later.

Leveraging diffused and focused learning is key to truly understanding something. You learn chunks through the focused model, and you develop the broader conceptual map using the diffuse way of thinking.

First, learn the basic outline or core structure, then fill in the details. For instance, when reading a book, look at the table of contents (core structure) and scan through the material. Next, use focused reading to fill in the details.

Learning how to learn is critical for everyone. Most of us have to deal with a changing world and to learn how to manage tons of new information.

However, most of our learning methods are outdated and far from optimal. It may even be giving us an illusion of learning, like re-reading and highlighting that don't provide proper feedback to show what you haven't learned.

In order to learn, we need to sleep

Learning is hard and takes effort on a personal level. It requires attention and physical energy.

  • When you start learning, you need to pay careful attention to bring that information into your short-term memory. Lack of sleep can make it difficult to pay attention to. Even memory champions can only hold 5-7 pieces of information at a time.
  • When you sleep, short-term memories are moved to a different region in the brain for long-term storage. Your brain then consolidates the information and select what information to forget.

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