Friday, July 27, 2012

Solving (Computer and Other) Problems

The job of engineers is essentially to solve problems.    Find a better tool, a better way.
There is a disciplined way to do that, more often ignored than used, though familiar to most professionals.
The simplest approach is not to try to solve the problem at all at first, but simply to do the homework, homework which is often skipped.    The result is to jump to a solution---try this, try that, and so on…
The homework is to define the problem in the greatest detail, a process which often leads to a recognition that the initial definition of the problem is superficial, if not counter-productive.
Rube Goldberg saw the folly of this.
Usually there are multiple layers to problems.
In my work almost any problem led back to the underlying definition that the company needed to make a profit.    My work could be described as “doing more with less”.  That, by the way, is often the  ”name of the game”.
Doing more for less is often skipped altogether, however, and solutions are assumed to be add-ons.
The basic issue is “WHAT ARE WE REALLY TRYING TO DO?”  That approach leads down through a number of layers.  It can never be asked too many times.
Now, then, when we have defined the problem properly, do we start at looking at solutions?
Not yet.  
The definition may BE the solution, if thorough!!   Then, if not, it is best to let our subconscious mind work on it, at least overnight.
(A colleague, who did not define problems,explained that another engineer who came up with them overnight, got solutions from his wife!!)
How many times have you participated in a committee meeting in which a problem is brought to light, various solutions are proposed, and there is a deadlock?     Could this be a process problem?
Indeed!    The initial process should be simply to define the problem clearly, even if urgent action is needed.   The problem is that we are all too impatient to get rid of the problem rather than solve it.
Committees are a wonderful place to pontificate and play politics, as opposed to defining the problem.
We also like to advance our own point of view from a self-interest vantage point.   Sound familiar?    The problem is seen as proving how superior our judgment is.   Consider Congress.
Our unconscious minds connect things together in ways we cannot.   They simply need a chance.  They just need a chance to work.  Are we smarter than our own unconscious minds?    NO!
Jumping to solutions usually is a short term fix at best, if not a new problem in itself..
There are other ways to solve problems.
In computers the first one to try is the process of elimination.
You would think with computers that computer and information-based solutions would do the job.  Yet, computers are the last area of endeavor where the main method indeed is the process of elimination.  It is entirely too complicated to do anything else!  So try this, try that!!   Oh, dear.
The other thing with computers is simply to pull the the plug and let the computer fix itself.  Really!!   Works!
A major flaw in problem-solving is in not using appropriate technology (just plain tools), usually the latest.    To do that you need to KNOW what is out here.  As an engineer you could torpedo yourself by failing to use that technology.    If you entered into a project with less effective and cruder tools, your reputation would suffer.    You needed the RIGHT tools.
That also means to look at all options for solutions.
I was always surprised as an engineer at how often then solutions came from the ranks of the union, whose workers tired of the old way, even if the new ways reduced their work!!   Day after day, they worked with tiresome old tools.   They got sick of them.    They innovated.  But they did not work with management unless they TRUSTED management not to “do them in”.    Management often fails in that department.
ANYWAY, this website is dedicated to helping seniors get the right tools to do the job of keeping connected.     That is the definition of the problem and solution.  Problem: keeping connected.   Solution: keep connected.   Use the new tools to do so.  Could it be any simpler?   Yet we persist with the old stuff.
In the past books often held the solution.  Nowadays computers themselves lead the way.    What else?   Internet.

Note: I wrote this posting to solve a problem.  Now, did I lay it out consciously?  Of course not.    I let it work itself out unconsciously and it just poured out  I did not organize it.   On reading it, my wife said : “Anybody can see that you did not organize it.”   Now, WAIT a minute!!