Monday, March 14, 2005

What Do You Know Now?

A short while ago (or so it seems), I was working with a close friend of mine of the younger persuasion (kid) on a puzzle. He was still fairly new to this business of puzzles so as we worked, we talked a bit about strategies to use in doing puzzles. They're the same strategies that work well in solving any problem and since the business world is full of problems to be solved and tech work is particularly all about solving problems, it seemed worth mentioning here.

It's probably all stuff you know and/or do already - the more you do it consciously and on purpose, the more effective the strategies are likely to be for you.

  • Categorize - putting like things together on the table (or in your head) helps reduce ambiguity and gives you some structure for thinking about the problem. Of course, with some sorts of problems, this can be a red herring, so as with most of these strategies, it doesn't pay to get too locked into one way of thinking!

  • Go from the known to the uknown - when it's a puzzle with a picture on the box of what you're trying to accomplish, work from that - it's much easier. In any kind of problem, identify what you know already and then begin exploring your possibilities out from there.

  • Identify new knowledge - for each piece you pull out of the box, there is something more that you know for having looked at it, even when you fail to place the piece. For every new piece you look at or experience you have, what can you now say that you know? Sometimes the knowledge has very limited application, so be careful not to make assumptions that are too broad... and yet, isn't it still useful to some degree to say that with one less piece of sky in the box, that means the ratio of other pieces is now higher?

  • Go back over old knowledge - sometimes we miss things the first time around because we don't yet understand enough to put what we're looking at into context. Retracing your steps every once in a while can sometimes yield real gold. Just be ready to pitch what you thought you knew in the event that later learning proves the earlier stuff is now obsolete.

What sorts of problems have you solved using these steps and what others can you suggest? I hope you'll share them to and a growing group of readers.

What would you do if you had it all figured out?