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  • Writer's pictureKelly Adams

Best Tip to Improve Your Problem Solving Skill

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Child holding a piece of a hand-built machine they made, in the background there is a desk with markers and pencils strewn around

Being born in the mid-90s I grew up with the internet. With a few clicks had the ability to look up anything, "how tall Taylor Swift is?", "what are the ends of shoe laces called?", and "why do cats 'make biscuits' ?" . Before you go looking up the answers to the questions above: Taylor Swift is 5' 11' or 180 cm, the end of shoe laces is called an anglet, and reason why cats knead (also known as "making biscuits") has a number of explanations but one of them is a sign that they're content/happy.

In college this ability to search was incredibly helpful when I didn't understand a concept. Especially for my higher level math classes, I could type into Google's search engine and look for a solution, Chegg, Wolfram Alpha, and Youtube saved my grade. Even if I couldn't find the exact solution I was looking for, I could usually find something similar. The only times I couldn't use this was during test but even then I just crammed and managed to get by (see last weeks post Struggling to Learn New Skills? Here's Advice From Top Creators on How to Learn Quickly about how to learn).

When I was working on my Google Capstone project, Google was my best friend for looking up answers. Now I'm not here to say the internet is evil or talk about the negative effects it may have on our brain (see The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by NIcholas Carr). Without the use of Google I would have never been able to complete my project; the ability to have the answer to your question in a few keystrokes is nothing short of amazing.

But I have noticed that I am less likely to spend time on my own working on a project or problem when I know I can turn to the internet. I was avoiding straining my brain, I wanted the easy way to solve my problems, the internet. During the analysis portion of my project I was having difficulty with how to filter out a piece of data based on a certain criteria in R. The moment I became frustrated I searched immediately for a solution. I never let myself struggle with concepts like I had to in primary or secondary school because I knew there was a quick way for me to get the answer. I didn't sit with the problem or try to figure it out on my own.

I was loosing my skill to problem solve without the internet. In Thomas Frank's video, The Skill You're Slowly Losing, he covers how to improve your problem solving skills. With the power and availability of the internet he also noticed he had less patience on working on difficult problems by himself. But he also didn't want to spend too much time on a problem that he could get help on. He remembered a process at a company he worked at, it was called the 15-minute rule. If you found a problem you were stuck on you set a timer for 15 minutes and work on it by yourself while documenting what you have tried. And after that 15 minutes if you are still struggling on, you can ask someone for help. This allowed the person to struggle just a little bit and work on solving the problem themselves but it also let them to seek help if the task required it and therefore not wasting too much of the company's time.

I've implemented the 15-minute rule into my routine when working on a project. At first it was a challenge, the desire to immediately search for the solution was strong in the beginning. It a new habit but over time that need to search within the first few minutes of becoming stuck has lessened. Now I spend at least 15 minutes working on the problem on my own and it's helped me become a better problem solver. It makes me think outside of the box without spending too much time on a singular problem. I've begun to build up my "problem solving muscle".

Next time you're working on a project I would recommend this simple practice to improve your problem solving ability.

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