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Solving by thinking is not the only way

Vesa Piittinen
User centric frontend specialist between "normal" programming and design. Loves perf and minimalism. Prefers HTML, CSS, Web Standards over JS, UX over DX. Hates div disease.
・3 min read

As we do things and solve problems we eventually end up into a situation where trying to solve a problem seems more like banging head to a wall. Or the end result doesn't seem to be satisfactory no matter what angle we try to solve it. Often we simply keep on working actively on a problem until we have just something that works good enough and then move on despite having a feeling that the solution we ended up with is somehow "not right".

We human beings really like the "me" part of us, the one that thinks their way around and is loud inside our head. It is easy to avoid seeing that our minds have other capabilities than the active thinker. Instead of using our head to drill an eventual hole into the wall it may be better to let go of the "evil" problem that brings the logical thinker down to total frustration. Do something else and maybe come back to the big problem the next day.

I haven't talked about this with other people a lot so I'm not sure, but it does seem to me that many assume everything has to be fully and actively thought out. Thinking actively is important of course, you wouldn't learn and figure things out without it, but we have another quality inside of us which I guess is best described as intuition.

Personally I use this side of me a lot more than others seem to use. This gives me a hard time every now and then. Sometimes I can't explain why doing a thing a certain way is the right thing to do. My thinker side lacks the words to communicate knowledge, or is unable to do a proper context switch in the moment. I only know the way I'd go ahead is likely to be "right". But if a decision is made based on a discussion and I'm given no time to do research on a topic to get my thinker up to speed I will lose an argument due to a lack of words (and lack of trust to my "feeling").

The problem in only trusting the thinker is that it is a slow beast. The intuitive side can get tasks done a lot faster, and the best part is that it does the work in the background: you can keep the active thinker occupied in other tasks! But you still need to get all the input to your head.

Instead of just thinking and trying to solve a problem it can be effective to feed your brain with information. Only after doing the feeding you can jump to the actual thinking part. Sometimes this is enough to solve a hairy issue. Sometimes you need a bit more time and get inspiration from something completely unrelated.

And all too often the solution strikes when you're in the shower.

My personal challenge is to communicate this "feature" of mine to other people. I excel with people who can naturally see that I know my stuff and give the trust I need. I have a much harder time with people who live in the meta and require everything to have a clear and perfect explanation, and who are strict.

For the moment I'm only in the process of realising that this is not only a "feature" in me but one core issue that I need to work on so I don't yet know what would be the best way to go ahead. But this is certainly a thing that I have to remember and keep as an active theme for some time. Also means I do have to pay more attention to what other people are like.

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