Featured image of post Resist the urge of the first solution

Resist the urge of the first solution

This is the biggest and most common mistake I see that prevents people from thinking clearly, and it is also the most difficult one to unlearn.

Too often people rush to the first solution they see. It is just too easy. But the risk of the first solution not being the best one is way too high. If you want to think clearly, innovate and solve problems in engineering or just in life in general, learn this.

Always resist the temptation to define the problem so that it fits the solution. It must always be the other way around: first learn as much as possible about the problem. Define it well. You must first know what problem you are solving before you can even start to think about potential solutions. If you rush to the first solution you come across, you will most likely focus too much on that particular solution, with the result that you become blind to the real problem and lose the ability to see a good solution that will actually solve the problem.

Focus your effort on the problem. Once you fully understand the problem, the solution will follow almost naturally and without too much effort, since the insight you will have gained of the problem will automatically direct you towards the right solution.

How to resist the temptation

Resisting the urge is easier said than done. There are three things I practice to break away from my bias:

1. Write it down. Putting it in writing forces you to produce coherent sentences and thus think it through. Seeing it in writing is a quick way to distance yourself from the issue and be your own first critic.

2. Go for a walk. Take a timeout. Grab some fresh air to elevate your mood and attentiveness. Try to forget the issue for a while. This will allow you to approach the issue from a new angle when you return to it. Sleep on it, and maybe your unconscious self will process something while you sleep. Let time pass to increase the odds that you come up with fresh revelation about the issue. Even if no new thoughts come, the fact that time passed without any new aspects surfacing will increase the odds that you have understood the issue well.

3. Present to or teach somebody else. Find somebody who is smart and honest. Then either in writing or in person, explain the issue and all the relevant data points. When you try to convince somebody else of your point of view, your own brain will try to anticipate counterpoints, which forces you to do your research, and when you actually present to the other person, their feedback will help you solidify your solution. The feedback from the other person does not need to be correct. If it is, that is great, but even the mere fact that you defended an idea will let you know how you felt about it.

If you still feel inclined after this, go for it.

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