Friday, November 5, 2010

Short Memory

"You can’t improve a design when you’re emotionally attached to past decisions. Improvements come from flexibility and openness." A quote from the 37signals blog.

This brings me back to diverse thinking and confirmation bias. The longer we work on a problem, the more focused we are. The good part is that we tune out the unimportant and distractions, but the downside is that we are less open to a new insight which might lead to a better solution.

How does one achieve a balance between focus and freshness? One way is to have several projects going at once (who doesn't) but rather than flitting back-and-forth in a feeble attempt to multi-task, I think you should dedicate significant chunks of time and effort to one problem. Then switch to another without re-visiting the first problem for some time. When you return to the initial problem you can't help but have a fresh perspective. You've also allowed for some incubation to occur. The longer you've worked on a project, the harder it is to return with a fresh perspective. That's where the challenge is.

The time spent devoted to one project is a factor you can play with. If it is a project you're familiar with, you can stay away from it for some time. For a new, unfamiliar project, don't stay away too long because you may end up spending too much time refreshing your memory.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Technical Report Writing

Communication is one of a problem solver's core competencies. NASA has put together a guide for its staff on writing technical reports and it's out there for free on the internet. While it can be of help in documenting your work, it is helpful in other ways.

Chapter 1, Stages of Report Preparation, could also be though of as a high-level overview of stages of problem solving.
  1. Gathering of data,
  2. analyzing to extract information,
  3. outlining to highlight missing information,
  4. writing to build knowledge, and
  5. revision to perfect communication and knowledge transfer
When faced with a problem. Don't just jump in aimlessly, gather your data, analyze it to diagnose the problem better, outline possible solutions. Write (or implement) a solution and finally, revise the solution to perfect it and address any oversights or limitations.