Refactoring your thinking
I spend a lot of time thinking. In fact, it’s something that takes up a large amount of my time – both day and night. When I’m focused on a complex problem, thinking can keep me up for hours at night until resolved. I’ve found that no matter what, the thinking will get done.
What I have learned about my process is that most of that time is spent refactoring the input data until it’s in its simplest form. The creative process of problem solving is much like the process of writing, designing, or even coding. The inputs into your brain are a set of facts, comments, opinions and numerous other data points that can, hopefully, be quantified.
Like a computer those inputs are:
- ranked and sorted,
What I envision is happening is a giant funnel churning on the data, reducing and being re-injected for additional computation. Is there a simple excercise that can help sort this data before it enters the funnel?
What if I pre-sort the inputs into four buckets:
- Conditional Statements (if, then)
- Edge cases
- Hopes(+) and Fears(-)
Using a piece of paper with four columns, labeled per the above, I write down the data about the problem when I get stuck on it. It’s the first step towards clarity – simply organizing all of the data. I also can rest safely knowing that there’s a record of the process.
This technique is new and I’m trying it in hopes that it will save on the brain processing that can at times, be disruptive. I encourage you to try it, too, and I’ll post about how well it works after a few months.
The iPad mini
I really like the new iPad mini. It has a large (enough) screen, is capable of being held in one hand, and runs iOS, all of which is fantastic. It’s easily portable for my Subway commute each morning and would have more real estate than my iPhone for consuming content. I might even pull it out at home and finish the e-books I have in progress.
What’s unclear is how the market will react to it, since the price starts at $329 and similar tablets start at $199. For an Apple product owner like myself, there are long term benefits of sticking with the device that largely outweigh a relatively small price difference.
First, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on apps that make the device immensely more valuable out of the box. Next, it will be easy to charge since I’ll be accumulating numerous lightning cables and have them placed around the house and at work. Finally, using the device is like second nature after 5+ years of iOS. All of these pay dividends in the user experience, which lasts the entire life of the product.
Everyday consumers don’t see things this way, though. The leaders of this market set the price at $199 and since this device is (yet) to be a status symbol like it’s big brother, it might not have a chance to be immensely successful.
Apple’s success has been with focused, market-defining products, not by following others. It’s not clear how well the iPad mini will do against established competitors, but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens next. Being the leader in consumper products, Apple has plenty to lose and there is no shortage of companies ready to step up if they do.
Solving for simplicity
When trying to solve a problem, the natural instinct is to immediately dive in and find a solution as quickly as possible, especially when under the stress of a deadline.
We should take the time to take a step back and ask ourselves:
what are we solving for?
When we do, the answer usually varies and contributes significantly to the desirable solution. On any number of occassions, we can be solving problems with these kinds of goals in mind:
Usually, however, we end up trying to solve problems while considering numerous goals. For example: how can we make something that is both small to download and visually dense? How can we make a product that has the allure of luxury but is also affordable?
There are endless permutations of the questions we can ask that pertain to the problems we’re trying to solve. This can be a roadblock that can slow the creative process of brainstorming and discussing solutions. When I’m stuck, I follow this rule:
when in doubt, solve for simplicity
Framing problems with a simple solution in mind frees the problem-solvers from the complexity that can arise by phrasing numerous questions together. Simple solutions, simply, have less. All the rest is taken away.
Here’s how we could reframe the above questions when solving for simplicity: Something that is small to download but is visually less can simply have a smaller footprint to compensate. Or, a luxury good that is also affordable can have minimal packaging to lower costs, raise appeal, and focus solely on the product.
While there can still be challenges in achieving an adequate solution, this helps move beyond the initial phase of deconstructing a problem and producing solutions that achieve a common goal.