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Problem Solving

81 SAVED IDEAS

The thinking problem

Our brains must make sense of the confusing world around us by processing a never-ending stream of information. Ideally, our brains would analyze everything thoroughly. However, they cannot, because it is too impractical.

  • Thinking takes time, and our decisions must often be fast. You must immediately know to cross a road quickly, when you hear a car rapidly approaching.
  • Thinking also uses energy and our brains have only a limited supply. Analyzing everything would quickly deplete our energy stores.
    These limitations represent a thinking problem: Our brains simply do not have enough resources to understand the world without taking some mental shortcuts.

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Problem Solving

We experience and interpret the world around us based on what we already know, even though sometimes what we know is flawed. Our brains find shortcuts to overcome the thinking problem by relying on thoughts already stored in our minds, called schemas. Schemas do the processing for the brain, like auto-fill, but for thinking.

Using schemas is more efficient than analyzing every aspect of every moment. They allow our brains to process more information with less effort, saving brain power for other important thinking and problem-solving.

Our brains as libraries
  • Schemas are the building blocks of our knowledge about the world. Our brains rely on different types of schemas to understand different types of situations.
  • Schemas are like books in your mind telling you what different objects are and what they do. A bird schema, for example, might say that birds are “small animals,” “have wings” and “can fly.” Together, all the objects you know form a collection of books that fill the shelves of a library in your mind.
  • Our brains trust what these books or schemas tell us when we try to understand objects in our environment.

Whether our judgments are accurate depends on the schemas or books available in our mental libraries.

When our brains try to understand unfamiliar objects, they must rely on a schema for a different but similar object because the correct schema is unavailable. If the object and chosen schema closely match, our brains effortlessly – but inaccurately – assume the two objects are the same.

The Crystal Ball: Probing The Future

The tools of probing the future (strategic forecasting) include microscopic as well as macroscopic components.

Geopolitical forecasting is the study of alternate futures, taking signals from the noise of today’s stories, developments and decisions.

While providing a set of scenarios, four is a good number to showcase a rich set of plausible futures.

  • They should ideally have the details of the likelihood or probability of the success or failure and be customized to fit the context.
  • Events of the past are generally unreliable indicators of the future due to a drastic change in the environment.
  • The scenarios listed should serve a purpose which is a low signal at present but has the potential to turn into a much higher signal in the future.
  • Any given field will have its own set of unique scenarios.

It has two parts, with the first five steps, concentrating on which particular scenarios to work on, and the rest three steps towards the story, implications and indicators.

  1. Focal Issue: identify what to focus on.
  2. Key Factors: brainstorm about the various factors influencing the focal issue. There can be numerous obvious factors and further digging can discover the less obvious, hidden ones.
  3. External Forces: there are always certain remote, unseen forces that operate on the focal issue, and can be geopolitical, economic, social or technological. This may result in 70 to 80 key factors/external forces.
  4. Critical Uncertainties: by combining all forms of key factors by implementing a divergent process, the next step is to converge by allocating priority votes to the importance of each factor and the degree of uncertainty.
  5. Scenario Logics: a decision is taken on which potential futures out of the curated list are to be developed into a detailed scenario.
  6. Scenarios: the eligible (top trending) scenarios are then turned into a story by a single author.
  7. Implications and Options: fact check and stress-test each of the scenarios is set up after a few weeks.
  8. Early Indicators can be easily found in consumer behaviour or stock price fluctuation.

A strategy is always developed with a set of scenarios studied and selected. It requires common sense as well as experience.

Example: A strategy can be an aeroplane, and the scenarios can be the conditions under which it can fly, or which it can crash.

Why we can’t seem to motivate ourselves

At a basic level, there are three elements of motivation.

  • Self-confidence or self-efficacy. The feeling that you can do this.
  • Finding the task unpleasant.
  • Sensitivity to time. We're sensitive to when rewards are realized.

We are awful at long-term planning. We can stay motivated for a couple of days or a week, but we find it hard to plan a semester-long paper or a retirement plan.

It is essential to have definite goals, in well-defined words, and measured hours. What matters is if you can visualize yourself working on the goal.

You can't have complete control over every outcome. You may not always have the best set of cards, but it shouldn't stop you from playing those cards the best way you can.

Learn to work with what you've got. Just like a poker game, you can maximize your chances. It starts with basic elements, like getting enough sleep and eating well.

Boredom is our natural state of saying "this has no significance". Regrettably, it gets activated for a lot of things that are useful in the long-term.

When you realize that you can do your hardest work when you have the most energy, you'll find you'll accomplish more than your competition.

Two types of motivation

Motivation is categorized into two basic types: Extrinsic and intrinsic.

  • Extrinsic motivation is related to external forces like money or fame.
  • Intrinsic motivation is something that comes from within like joy or pride.
Money as a motivation

Money as a tool for motivation is limiting at best, and the 'carrot and stick' approach many managers use to motivate employees is will actually achieve the opposite effect of what was intended.

Conditional rewards

‘If, then’ rewards or conditional rewards are when we promise to give something to an individual when they complete a certain task.

These rewards can have a negative impact on motivation as the employees lose the will to work on that task for the sake of working.

Shortcuts are dangerous

There are many examples of scandals, and scams, like managers tweaking their reports to show better results, or athletes using steroids. These shortcuts do not work in the long run. If we are having a spark of intrinsic motivation, the reward is the work itself, and there can be no shortcuts if we love our work.

Goals involve pressure

The drive towards your goal can convince you to make certain decisions or do objectionable and undesirable things that you normally will not do.

Rewards

Rewards work for routine tasks that require no creativity. If we put incentives on creativity, the drive to create can disappear once the incentives or rewards are removed.

Pablo Picasso
"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Creativity: The Elusive Butterfly

Creative inspiration is elusive, and it is a common fact that some people are more creative than others. New research suggests creativity can be magnified with hard work and the right network.

Creativity can be ‘grown’ with the right soil and sunlight, and is not just a thing people are born with.

  • Divergent Thinking: The ability to think a diverse range of ideas which are relevant to the main topic.
  • Convergent Thinking: Evaluation of the diverse ideas for its usefulness and effectiveness when tackling the main problem.
  • Intuitive Thinking: The automatic, gut instinct that is spontaneous.
  • Analytical Thinking: The slow, deliberate thought process that helps us select and fit the right ideas.

Apart from one’s network and environment, creativity also requires the right exposure and experience, which involves making mistakes and going places.

A fantastic imagination is often a crucial element that is often overlooked, as people who daydream or are distracted do not appear to be serious.

Children who fantasize and are daydream are often good in their creative imagination, narrative ability and other aspects that can be boosted.

Episodic Imagination takes cues from real events that are in memory and transforms it into an imaginary visualization, making the experience part reality and part imagination.

While most self-help books emphasize on imagining a great future, the key takeaway from the study on creative imagination is that one has to imagine the process, not the final outcome.

Imagining the desired outcome actually yields worse results but imagining the episodic process can turn the fantasy into a reality.

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