Jake Worth

Jake Worth

Think Hard

Published: June 01, 2022 • Updated: November 29, 2023 2 min read

  • ideas

This is a response to Ben Kuhn’s ‘Think Real Hard.’ Ben starts by sharing a problem-solving checklist from the scientist Richard Feynman:

  • Write down the problem.
  • Think real hard.
  • Write down the solution.

From a mind like Feynman’s, this advice can feel insulting. Of course you just wrote down the solution– you’re a 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.

Thinking Hard

I sometimes get stuck. I’m making no progress, facing an un-Googleable problem, one nobody on my team knows how to solve. Stuck, even 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”, for example.

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. You could try the Five Whys. I think tool is less important than just sitting down and devoting your attention to the problem.

Sit and think. That’s it. If I have to walk away at the end with problem unsolved, I trust in R-Mode thinking to keep the wheels turning. It invariably does, even when I don’t want it to.

It doesn’t always work. But I can recall a dozen times where it has produced a paradigm-shifting insight for me, usually in the last few minutes. To take my hypothetical problem, “People Aren’t Excited About Our Demo”, this might produce:

  • “We’re demoing to the wrong people.” Do we need a customer segment pivot?
  • “We’re missing this one feature and that’s distracting from the presentation.” Should be build that feature?
  • “Our pitch is not compelling.” Do we need to work on this?

Whatever the insight, I can take it and move forward. I’m no longer stuck.

Why I Think This Works

Workplaces are distracting. In today’s workplace, thinking about just one thing, for any amount of time, is rare.

Yet workers produce value every day 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 for your mind. You’re just applying a little more of the immense power your mind always has in reserve.


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.

What are your thoughts on this? Let me know!

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