Method for systematic thinking/problem solving? Business, personal, institutional.
March 31, 2012 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Method for systematic thinking/problem solving? Business, personal, institutional.

Every time I face a new problem or challenge, I seem to scramble. In business (assessing the needs of my web design clients, and making sales), personal, and other arenas. Rather than approach everything as one-offs, I'd like to learn a systematic method of thinking about and dissecting problems.

Over the years I've become a better listener and thinker. When a friend is relating a problem I am able to probe more deeply and try to get at the core of the matter, kind of like a good psychologist. Sometimes I can apply this to business--but it's easier to do with someone else's problems than my own. Sometimes I handle challenges well, but I often feel like I'm reinventing the wheel with each one.

I'm a creative thinker, so rigid or overly scientific approaches won't work for me.

I see parallels in what I'm seeking in InBox Zero, GTD (Getting To Done) and other systems for handling communications and tasks.

What approaches/resources can you recommend?
posted by 4midori to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Thinking In Systems: A Primer has many great ways to approach complicated problems with multiple dependencies.
posted by jquinby at 2:19 PM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

...though I should point out that it's not really a method as more of a set of concepts. Still, it might give you some new ways to think about problems (large and small), which in turn could give you a better handle on managing them (or not managing, as appropriate).
posted by jquinby at 2:23 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

What you are looking for are the classically taught skills of logic, rhetoric, and grammar - collectively known as the Trivium. Once you understand the fundamentals of learning, you can essentially teach yourself ANYTHING. Basically, learning the Trivium teaches you how to think.

Yes. I know we should all know this "formula" but it's not commonly taught today, per se. Instead, we are usually only taught bits and pieces, just enough to get us through standardized tests. I'm sure those resources you cited draw heavily on the formula and techniques of the Trivium, even if the people behind those resources don't know so directly.

There are plenty of books and podcasts and blogs on the Trivium. (also, the Quadrivium.) Get googling!

I know this might not be exactly what you were asking for, but I hoped you might understand more as you go if you were introduced to the universal "nuts and bolts" of how to learn and think. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 2:24 PM on March 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking is a great textbook.
posted by leigh1 at 2:53 PM on March 31, 2012

"I often feel like I'm reinventing the wheel with each one."

This may be sort of a meta-answer, but I think a really obvious thing people overlook is:

"Find a book about the specific thing you are trying to do, and read it."

You mention you are re-encountering some of the same problems in making sales in your web design practice. Have you tried reading a book about sales for freelancers? Encountering problems in assessing client needs? Read a book about assessing client needs. You didn't specify the other sorts of problems you were having, but if you did, I bet you would find there are books about those, too. (There are great books on handling arguments in romantic relationships, dealing with conflicts in personal situations, etc, etc....)

Note this is a different tactic from reading a book about general problem-solving. Maybe a book about general problem-solving will help you develop good ideas and tactics for how to do sales as a freelancer. But I bet someone else has already developed a whole bunch of ideas and tactics about that for you. Why not benefit from their work, rather than, as you put it, reinventing the wheel?

This may seem obvious, but it seems like something many people overlook. I know it's something I often overlook myself. But whenever I actually go out and look for a book on the subject I'm struggling with, it usually really helps, and I think "Geez, why didn't i do this sooner?"
posted by ManInSuit at 3:16 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Funny, I just started a book in this subject this morning. It's called 10-10-10. It's a bit pop psychology-ish but it has an interesting idea. Fund out your question, gather all the info you can and then go through the different scenarios asking yourself how it will affect your life in the next ten minutes, the next ten months, and the next ten years. The book has some more detail and lots of anecdotes that are helpful. It sounds so simple but I think that's good sometimes.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:13 AM on April 1, 2012

Maybe this video about SCRUM will help. In general it's about software development and manufacturing but it seems like it would apply in any environment.
posted by aeighty at 3:36 PM on April 1, 2012

Generic parts technique. I don't know how well it works in practice.
posted by euphorb at 10:32 PM on April 1, 2012

Response by poster: Great ideas, thanks all.
posted by 4midori at 11:55 AM on April 3, 2012

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