Managing yourself creatively
The Scientific Method
How do they do it? In a word, through organization. Over the years, through costly trial and error, scientists have discovered that problems are most readily solved through a particular sequence of actions. Follow this sequence yourself and, in eight cases out of ten, you’ll come up with a workable solution to your problem. There are just seven steps.
1 Assemble the Facts
Visualize your problem as a large, heavy ball, too big to handle, and almost impossible to budge. Now picture that same ball with knobs all over its surface, which permit it to be turned and examined.
Facts are knobs that permit you to ‘turns a problem around. They contribute to your understanding and, if properly assembled, these facts explain why the problem exists and how to solve it.
How do you go about assembling facts? There are three basic techniques:
Providing only that you ask the right people, there is no better way of getting the facts in any case. Make sure that the person you are asking has no reason not to tell you the complete truth (e.g. fear of your displeasure, hesitation to admit ignorance, lack of information, a vested interest of some kind). Quiz yourself, too. Sometimes we know the answers, but need questions to unleash our knowledge.
Keep eyes ears open
There is no substitute for first-hand observation. What you see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears is usually dependable. But beware of confusing opinion. Prejudice, or rumor with fact.
Reading vastly expands your access to other minds, novel insights, diverse points of view, and experiences. Over the years, we have all learned which printed sources of information is dependable, and which are not. It is a safety measure to check one authority against another, so read books, magazines, and newspapers. Since you will want the latest information, check the dates on your printed sources.
2. Weigh the Facts
Some of the so-called facts that you uncover will prove less than true; others will shed no particular light on your problem. That’s why you must subject every ‘fact’ to a two-part test.
The first test is for accuracy. Have you been able to check each fact by personal observation? Expert testimony? Experimentation? Are any of your facts mutually exclusive; that is, does one flatly contradict the other? Questions like these will help you establish the validity of any fact.
The second test is for relevance. It may be a fact that your senior supervisor collects stamps, but it is doubtful whether that has any bearing on the poor performance he’s turned in during the past two months. Perhaps the easiest way to assess a fact for relevance is simply to ask yourself, “so what?”. If your answer is, “So-nothing”, the fact in question is probably irrelevant. You can safely dismiss it from consideration.
3. Play with the Facts
In tackling a problem, the orderly assemblage and testing of facts are frequently not enough. They must be juggled, toyed with, turned upside down, hitched to non-facts and handled whimsically, for the answers to problems can come from the most unlikely sources such as experience, experiment, accidents, daydreams, and hard work. You never can tell where or when you’ll find them, but there are ways to coax them into existence. Some possible approaches:
Use your imagination
Fresh ideas and novel solutions have two major enemies: logic and common sense. Men fathered most of the world’s great inventions with the ability to conduct their minds on freewheeling adventures into the nonexistence, the unconventional, the absurd. Try it yourself on a problem you currently face. How might a child solve it? How would your wife tackle it? What would the ideal solution be? Suppose money were no object? What could you do if you had all the time in the world? Can you solve this in some combination? With what? With whom? Don’t be afraid of getting wrong answers; you only need one correct one.
Try the Obvious
A truck approached an underpass that was just one inch too low for it. Helpless, the driver pulled over to the side of the road. Presently, a little boy came by. “Truck too high?” he asked. “Yeah”, said the driver. “Know what I’d do?” “What?” “I’d let some air out of the tires. “All too often, the solution to a problem is right under our noses, hence out of sight. Answers that come immediately are not necessarily bad. An obvious road to a solution is to find out how others have handled the problem. Do some research at the library; in trade or professional journals; by writing to an appropriate governmental agency or business association; or by contacting an expert.
Get it down on a paper
Your pencil can be a helpful ally, too. Write out the problem as simply as you can. Study it, Jot down all the alternatives that occur to you, and if possible, draw pictures. Doodle. The mere act of playing with a problem sometimes yields the solution.
Read outside your own interests
Nothing will stimulate your “think muscle” like constant exposure to new and different ideas. So quite aside from the reading you do for strictly informational purposes and which has a direct bearing on the problem at hand, read books on history, economics, psychology, biography, science and travel. Study your daily newspaper, including the little out-of-the-way items. Subscribe to a magazine whose editorial policy is diametrically opposed to your own thinking. One paragraph, one sentence, even one word somewhere may suggest the solution you are seeking.
Brainstorm with others
Because ideas tend to generate more ideas, a noteworthy method of finding solutions is to talk over a problem, with others: friends, colleagues, and relatives — even children. Encourage them to give free rein to their imaginations and share their insights and inspirations, no matter how outlandish they may seem. Something that A says may trigger B who in turn may trigger C, and so on. Many ingenious ideas have been born through this kind of “free association”.
Share off Irrational Thoughts
Three common barriers to straight thinking threaten every potential problem solver. Unless you learn to recognize and hurdle these barriers, all the facts in the world will not do you a scintilla of good, for they distort the ability to reason and becloud perspective.
Your oldest subordinate can’t possibly have anything worthwhile to contribute to your plan for improved quality control on the data acquisition unit; he never studied engineering. Prejudice most frequently prevents one from viewing the unadorned facts of a case and causes one to reach irrational conclusions.
Your senior subordinate’s lack of formal engineering training doesn’t necessarily prove that he is incapable of contributing good ideas for improving your production techniques. Indeed, he is on the job experience may qualify him, on a practical level, as an expert.
No one is totally without prejudices. But recognize yours and you will have gone a long way toward eliminating the distortions of judgment that these prejudices can create.
At one time or another, everyone “knew for a fact” that no Catholic could ever become President of the United States… space travel was a dream of science fiction writers… the sub-four- minute mile was beyond human reach. Yet, each of those “impossibilities” has materialized.
Why were so many people so dead wrong? Because they allowed preconceived notions to get between them and the facts; they carried conclusions in their heads that were arrived at before examining the evidence.
If you don’t want to be the unwitting victim of preconceived notions, as you study the facts before you, ask yourself:
Am I assuming anything to be true here? If so, do the facts bear out my assumption?
Are these “facts” demonstrable (e.g. via figures, current trends, past experience, written records expert testimony)?
Am I letting wishful thinking influence my judgment?
Am I confusing coincidence or chance with cause and effect?
Do any of my interpretations of the facts fail the test of logic?
Ask a young man in love how the weather is on a rainy day and he’ll tell you. “Beautiful!” His judgment is untouched by the cold meteorological facts.
Similarly, any feeling – joy, hate, fear, suspicion, jealousy – interferes with the weighing of hard facts. The rule to remember and practice, therefore, is: don’t try to study the facts of a problem situation while under the influence of a strong emotion. Rather, recognize your temporary inability to be objective and postpone your confrontation of them.
5. Arrive At A Tentative Solution
Once You Can Clearly View The Facts without distortion, you may reason your way through to a logical solution of your problem. Having satisfied yourself that you have obtained the pertinent facts of the case and successfully sidestepped the barriers to straight thinking in your assessment of them, you arrive at an answer that appears to be correct.
But is it? Really? The most effective way to find out is to
6.Test Your Solution
Here are three practical ways to do just that;
Be your own harshest critic
When a scientist believes he has solved a problem or made a discovery, he doesn’t pat himself on the back. On the contrary, he repeats his experiments, rechecks his notes, considers the possibility of an “X factor” being at work, invites his colleagues to prove him mistaken. In short, he tries his very best to knock his solution apart ! Only after it has withstood every conceivable sort of critical examination will he formally announce his discovery. Do the same thing with your solution. Look for trouble. Examine it for pitfalls, inconsistencies, and contradictions. Dig for reasons why it won’t work. Does it, for example, require too much time, money, personnel?. Will it create problems of its own? Is it impractical for some reason? Answers to questions like these will indicate drawbacks, suggest possible modifications of your solution.
Get outside opinions
Since no man can know everything from personal experience and since different men have had different experiences, it follows that the more men you ask for help, the deeper the well of experience from which you are drawing. Whatever your problem may be, the odds are overwhelming that somebody else has already faced it or a problem very much like it. Take advantage of that. Ask others for their candid opinions of your solution. Whom? Your superior, a friend, co-workers, or anyone whose judgment you respect and whose own past performance and background suggest that he is in a position to give you worthwhile advice.
Try out your solution
A tentative solution to a problem is really a kind of decision and, you will recall, before any decision is implemented, it should be subjected to a trial run. Do you think your office might benefit from an expanded staff? Test that notion with some temporary help before hiring additional full-time employees. Considering a major capital outlay? How about leasing the equipment for a trial period first? Whenever possible, test your solution in a small way.
7. Modify Your Solution As Needed
If your tentative solution passes all three tests, you can probably put it into action with confidence. If it fails any of the tests, don’t give up; you’ve merely uncovered another, lesser problem. Somewhere along the line, you overlooked a fact; or weighed one incorrectly; or failed to use it imaginatively; or allowed an irrational thought to cloud your vision. Very well, start from the beginning and work your way through the formula again:
- Assemble the facts.
- Weigh the facts.
- Play with the facts.
- Shake off irrational thoughts.
- Arrive at a tentative solution.
- Test your solution
- Modify your solution as needed.
That’s the scientific way to solve a problem. And it’s the way that works best.