Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Self Dependent Problem Solving

Every once in awhile I am faced with a complex problem that seems to overwhelming to address. I am often able to find the solution by employing a few strategies each stemming from the other. The first strategy involves breaking the problem down into smaller more manageable components. I do this by asking simple questions related to the problem. This breaks the problem apart and allow correlations to be made.  It also provides the foundation to maneuver through the more complex components.

Even though the foundation is being set during this part of the process it is almost inevitable that you will find a point where you become stuck. When I get to this point I simply do an Uber-Breakdown of the issue I am trying to tackle, it is important to keep the mind moving. I look at the basics of my knowledge and answer the most basic of question I can come up with. Often this not only jogs my mind but it brings to light some of the more complex issues that I have not developed fully. This has even lead me directly to the solution. A quick note if you have writer's block this exercise will get your mind rolling enough to get you out of the snow.

Once, I have addressed and solved all of the different components I've laid I can find myself in a very discouraging point. No solution. From my experience this is a result of one of two situations. Like always I will address the lesser of the two evils first. Basically, you have a bunch of solutions that you are pretty certain play into the larger solution but it is proving difficult to put them together. Basically, you are sitting in front of a jigsaw puzzle. It is best to approach this by putting the pieces that most naturally fit together first. In an actual puzzle these pieces would be the edges. Then you simply build toward the middle. During this process I often find that I was having problems because a few pieces of the puzzle had fallen to the floor and I simply needed to pick them up to put my solution together. By placing the components together without fully addressing the solution you will allow yourself the ability to find the issues that were in the problem that you had forgotten to address or did not realize were a part of the problem. Once, this process is started it won't be long until you have arrived at the solution unless the second scenario is occurring.

On to the second and potentially more frustrating but also more rewarding stumbling block of the problem solving process. Finding that you lack the knowledge to come upon the solution. This is like being able to see your destination across a canyon and not quite having enough material to build the bridge to get to where you are going.

However, you are in a unique position because you have pre-assembled several of the pieces to build the bridge. Now simply assemble the pieces in a similar fashion to how you would have built the puzzle. Eventually, you will find yourself at the edge of the bridge without any more material to approach the gap before you and your solution. The dilemma here is that you may have to discover new materials that will allow you to extend your bridge.  In other words it is time to learn. You do have to determine whether someone else can help provide guidance or if you simply can learn more on your own to get you to where you are going.

If you find that no one can help or your simply stubborn and want to forge forward this next strategy is for you. You now stand at the edge of not a bridge but of discovery. It is important to understand that to extend the bridge towards your goal you must discover new knowledge that you have not been taught. You have to think creatively to come up with theories and test them. At first make sure you use solid concepts and do not venture to far from your knowledge base. It can be discouraging to find that you have done a lot of work only to build a tangent that leads no where and collapses. As you get closer and closer to reaching your goal explore more and more radical concepts that will allow you to achieve your desired solution.  Try to do the minimum amount of work before presenting a new test.

The basic principle of each strategy is to build to the complex through simplicity.