Becoming unstuck

Getting unstuck when you hit the wall

Things to consider when problem solving

    Italian Trulli

    Re-read the requirements, specifications, and understand what you are supposed to be solving or doing. Have someone else read the same material. Compare notes. Often (surprisingly often), you might find that you are trying to do the wrong thing or solve the wrong problem or do it with the wrong expectations.

    Consciously stand back and reflect on what the constraints are. It is possible that some constraints can be relaxed.

    Think about what assumptions you are implicitly and explicitly using - are you part of the problem?

    Stand back and identify the Zen aspect of the situations - all that makes it what it is and no more. Can you take something away and it is still what it needs to be? This simplification process can help isolate issues and what must be addressed.

    If you have a ‘continuum’ or a large problem, do a binary-search on the space - divide the problem in two if you can - is it in the left or right. Divide again. This can work for concepts as well as things like debugging code. Sometimes the problem is just too big to comprehend and if you can break it down into encapsulated and isolated ‘modular’ bits, it is easier to think about and solve.

    If you are trying to change or do a bunch of stuff at the same time - slow down. Do one change at a time, see the effect. Understand the cause/effect.

    Try to do a sketch of what you are dealing with - can be a process model, or a conceptual representation of the components - try at different levels of granularity - see if any patterns exist.

    Just talk it through with someone - take it from the top and try to explain the problem or what is happening to someone. Often this can unlock an idea.

    If you are stumped by a specific aspect, write down everything you know about it.

    If you can, do what is called anthropomorphism projection - try to be what you are designing or debugging and use your imagination to be the electrons, or the user. Think it through from turning on the power, starting it up. Become one with the problem. Sometimes this helps (really).

    Take a break, a nice walk - move away from the problem and think about something else. This can also (we do not know how) help you ‘see’ the solution.

Questions to ask yourself

Italian Trulli

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