Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers

by katystreet

By Nat Greene.

I read this book because my friend wrote it and because I was intrigued by the ‘stop guessing’ admonishment. I do a lot of problem solving, though lately I would call it debugging because it’s electrical or software engineering work, and the idea that I may be inadvertently guessing at difficult problems seemed possible.

Of course there are nine behaviors: stop guessing, smell the problem, embrace your ignorance, know what problem you’re solving, dig into fundamentals, don’t rely on experts, believe in a simple solution, make fact-based decisions, and stay on target. I agree with them all, though the examples come heavily from Greene’s experience as a consultant for manufacturing lines. Smelling a firmware problems requires a base level of skill above watching a machine package something, as does digging into the fundamentals. However, I too have been lead astray by not focusing on the problem at hand (kind of ‘know what problem you’re solving’ and ‘stay on target’ rolled into one) and relying too heavily on experts.

Although there were some examples of lifestyle problem solving, like lowering your cholesterol or losing weight, it was hard to see how that could truly be successful. For instance, the lowering cholesterol piece relied on the scientific community discovering that cholesterol levels in the body are not tied to the amount of cholesterol you consume. How could I have figured that out?

I’ve had a nagging hamstring injury for a long time now but it’s very intermittent. I kept trying to think how I could apply these behaviors to help me solve this problem but no clear steps came up. I smell the problem by listening closely to my body. I’ve definitely embraced my ignorance, but I don’t have a team of experts on hand to embrace it with. I’ve done everything, but it’s a complex problem with very long feedback loops. Tendons can take months to heal properly and sometimes scar tissue forms. It’s hard to know if it has healed properly, hard to know if something I have done has made it better in the long- or short-term.

I found the book to be useful reminders for engineering but pretty hopeless for my injury.