Published: June 01, 2022 • Updated: November 04, 2022 • 2 min read
This is a response to Ben Kuhn’s ‘Think Real Hard.’ Ben starts by sharing a problem-solving checklist from the scientist Richard Feynman:
From a mind like Feynman’s, this advice can feel insulting. Of course you wrote down the solution– you’re an actual genius!
What can we learn from Dr. Feynman? In this post, I’d like to explain how I’ve used this advice to solve hard problems.
I sometimes get stuck. Standing still, facing an un-Googleable problem, one nobody on my team knows how to solve. Stuck after I’ve tried not staying stuck.
My solution is to think hard.
I grab a pen and a sketchpad. At the top, I title my problem: “People Aren’t Excited About Our Demo” (or whatever).
Then, I sit and force myself to think and write about the problem nonstop for at least thirty minutes. No phone, no computer, no breaks. I use the mind-map brainstorming technique, but any kind of note-taking tool you like will work.
Sit and think. That’s it. If I have to walk away at the end with problem unsolved, I trust that R-Mode thinking will keep the wheels turning.
I’m not sure if this always works. But I can recall a dozen times where it has produced an insight, usually in the last few minutes. That insight might be “We’re demoing to the wrong people,” or “this missing feature is distracting from the presentation.” Whatever the insight, I can take it and move forward. I’m no longer stuck.
Workplaces are distracting. In today’s workplace, thinking about just one thing, for any amount of time, is rare.
Yet workers produce value because most problems aren’t hard. Emoji or SVG? Accept or reject the story? These can be solved with minimal attention.
When you encounter a hard problem and use this technique, it’s something like hysterical strength. You’re just applying more of the immense power your mind has.
Hard problems are the realm of the elite. The only way around them is through, to think hard.
Thanks again to Ben Kuhn for inspiring this post.
Get better at programming by learning with me. Subscribe to my newsletter for weekly ideas, creations, and curated resources from across the world of programming. Join me today!