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Problem solving protocol

Problem solving protocol


·September 21, 2022


Reminds me of Feynman's Algorithm:

1. Write down the problem.

2. Think very hard.

3. Write down the answer.

I understand the article is genuinely trying to be helpful and I don't want to be too harsh, but it's unfortunately one of those areas where the specifics are way more important than general considerations.


I think the article is trying to encourage you to realize there is a lot more practical steps you can do to map out the space of possible paths forward (which is of course also one way of making headway), than many people realize at first.


>2. Think

I run into so many "IT" people that dont do that step at any stage. Google has made people lazy.


One way that often works for me:

1. Work very hard on the problem all day, no solution at sight. Looks like no solution exists.

2. Go home, eat, relax and go bed.

3. The successive morning go to work. You will able to solve the problem in half an hour.


Reminds me of David J. Agans' nine rules of debugging, from his Debugging book:

1. Understand the System

2. Make it Fail

3. Quit Thinking and Look

4. Divide and Conquer

5. Change One Thing at a Time

6. Keep an Audit Trail

7. Check the Plug

8. Get a Fresh View

9. If You Didn’t Fix it, It Ain’t Fixed


I wonder if problem solving is a teachable skill?

Most people in my industry are fairly good problem solvers, almost to a fault, sometimes when you tell someone about a problem you don't want it solved, you just want a little empathy.

However every one in a while I meet someone who is a terrible problem solver. It is like when they hit something they don't know they just give up. Honestly it is such a foreign way of thinking I have a hard time understanding them.

But the question is, is problem solving a teachable skill(what is the best way to go about teaching someone it?) or is it more like personality you have it or you don't.


I think problem solving mechanics or structure can be taught. Creativity in problem solving is probably less teachable.

For anything non-trivial, I think a process or structure for problem solving, knowing that you probably won't solve something on the first attempt and need iteration, and basic project coordination skills are needed. I think all of this can be taught.

I think there is a lot more in common across fields than people are willing to admit. There are different techniques and language used to accomplish the same thing, but it's all in service of the same underlying goal.


>I think problem solving mechanics or structure can be taught.

I'd be very interested in seeing a course like this. I know many people that need it.


My background was in automotive manufacturing, so everyone was trying to copy what Toyota did. If you excuse the obvious oversimplification, Toyota used approaches from the Training Within Industry (TWI) program [1] to develop internal training. Art Smalley has numerous articles, videos, and documents available ranging from TWI to problem solving at Toyota [2]. Art Smalley shows there is a sort of hierarchy of different problem solving approaches depending on if you’re dealing with a machine stoppage on a manufacturing line all the way up to determining new markets to enter.

TWI is broken down into job methods, job instructions, job relations, and a problem solving segment. It does tend to be heavily focused on manufacturing, so you’d need to change the examples for your needs.

I don’t think there are any real secrets in the training programs. Almost all of the process improvement / problem solving methods I’ve come across seem to be a variation on the scientific method with catchier naming.

Generally two challenges I’ve seen in problem solving are people jumping to solutions directly without understanding the problem, and making multiple changes simultaneously or in sequence and losing the ability to determine cause and effect.




I like that most of that protocol is multi-scale—it applies to one-day, one-person efforts as well as to tasks requiring dozens of people for many years.