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CHIPPING THE COMPOSITE

December 5th, 2018

Solving any large problem or finding solutions almost always benefits from a reminder that all things are composite.  Meaning, made of many parts that can be broken apart into smaller and smaller pieces.  Even high level mathematics inevitably breaks down into elementary numbers and basic operators.

 

No matter how insurmountable a problem seems, we need only start by asking the questions that define the problem in a way that is more conducive to chipping.

 

We might start by asking, “if this problem could be defined as two things, what would those two things be?”

 

From here we can make a tree structure that might only extend to one or two nodes in other directions, but in others we’ll be able to redefine the subcategories of the problem right down to something that is small enough as to be actionable, or something we can investigate.

 

Think for a moment of how lightening branches out from a cloud.  like the zigzagging fingers of an electric hand, the lightning is searching for a connection, often the ground.  The lightning never needs all of these luminous and crackling fingers to reach the ground, just one touch.  Such an occurrence might be reminiscent of the famous panel in the Sistine Chapel depicting the moment just before God and Adam touch fingertips. 

 

In the arena of problem solving, our analogy of branching definitions extends beyond what we see with lightning.  Chipping away at the composite until we have what might be labelled as the smallest necessary component of the problem which allows us to take some further action opens up other unknown or undefinable parts of the problem. 

 

Just as lightning searches through the maze of air density, looking for the path of least resistance, we might think of a thief trying to break into a building.  The thief looks for a weak spot, a vulnerability that can be leveraged and exploited.

 

So too with problems.  Solving the whole of any problem is usually unrealistic for our minds.  But we can needle the problem, and poke around for a point of entry where we can begin to make progress.

 

Curiosity naturally takes this route akin to lightning, but when we face an unenjoyable problem, often our motivation stalls.  We need only remember the composite nature of any problem, and further remind ourselves that simply thinking of the right question can not only begin the process of chipping into a problem, but it can also evoke our natural curiosity.

 

We must remember this every time we get hung up.  We must not be swayed by the sunk-cost of time spent investigating one angle of attack.  We must ask another question, potentially a better question.

 

How else can I chip away at this problem?

 

This is another way of saying,

 

How can I grow my curiosity around this problem?


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Podcast Ep. 234: Chipping the Composite

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