Konubinix' opinionated web of thoughts

Problem Thinking vs Solution Thinking


I think we need a balance between thinking the problem and thinking the solution.

Sometimes, we tend to want to focus on solution so that sometimes we did not even try to understand the problem.

Often, I see people coming and asking for my opinion (as a technical lead) on a particular solution. I then ask several questions to find out what the problem is. After some technically difficult talks to clarify the problem, we realise either there was no problem or the solution is not suited.

I think we tend to think about the solutions because it gives us a more pleasant feeling of solving our issue, while thinking about the problem gives us the feeling that we did not start yet. Also, this pleasant feeling might be because focusing on the solutions that our intuitive brain automatically computes is likely to be way easier than asking the analytic brain to understand the problem (see question substitution).

Of course, there is the opposite tendency to overthink the problem and never start. In my mind, this is more a problem about not doing rather than a problem of thinking about the problem. I warmly suggest that, in case we deem the problem needs some thinking that we make hypotheses, design experiments and try them to clarify the problem. Those might eventually become solutions that would fix the problem they would discover.

I think that guessing we are investigating a solution somehow give us a anchor and makes difficult getting taking a step back on the problem, making us unintentionally miss a likely solution.

In a sense, I suggest we are intellectually honest and not pretend thinking about a solution until we feel ready to describe the problem clearly.

Actually, I think we need to iterate with:

  • thinking about the problem till we think the horizon of the problem is long enough in the future to be vague
  • do something about the problem, try a solution
  • iterate

I also believe that this time is not balanced: most of the time should be spend in the problem thinking rather than solution thinking.

Notes linking here