Ready-made and the alternative

Most of the time buying something that’s been ready-made by professionals is cheaper – especially if you count the cost of your time – and gets you a better result. You pay your money, and in return you get your problem solved. But it might be that you buy other things by choosing to make something yourself: fun new technical…

The onion strikes back: Maggie Koerth on the nested problems of Covid-19 testing

Covid-19 testing has been a mixed bag: Singapore and Korea seem to have been able to get on top of things quickly, while the UK and US (to pick too) have – at least in comparison – seemed barely able to get their act together at all. Maggie Koerth‘s discussion of the issue with Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder points…

Chief Problem Solver

You’re not just the CEO or the CIO … Expand your title to see your role as the CPS – the Chief Problem Solver. In other words, solving problems isn’t something that you dread, it’s something that you do. It’s who you are. The honest truth is that anyone can point out a problem… but a leader does something about…

A sense of urgency

No doubt about it: a sense of urgency helps us make get things happen and get stuff done. The problems come when we’re urgent about the wrong things: We’re urgent as we approach big deadlines, but not about early thinking, or doing each of the little pieces that together make up the job; We’re urgent about handling the problems in…

The Onion (3): exemplar interesting problem – learning to read

Problems gain (or lose) interestingness as their context and scale changes. Take teaching a kids to read as an example. It’s almost inevitable that a child will learn to read given the following ingredients: A supportive family A strong reading culture at home A steady supply of good books A reasonable curriculum or methodology for teaching An well educated, motivated…

The Onion (2): a model for solving interesting problems

My first post about The Onion looked at interesting problems as systems of networked sub-problems, and suggested that our solutions will mirror this structure. The Onion is also a good metaphor for the process of finding practical solutions: we work from solving the smallest problems in theory, outwards to technical solutions, before we finally build a (networked system of) practical…

The Onion (1): understanding interesting problems

This post is a sketch of a way of thinking about how problems work, and what we need to do to make our solutions (“the change we seek to make”) effective. It’s bit abstract – I’ll share a more concrete illustration in a later post. We often talk about interesting problems as if they’re discrete units: How can I keep…

Interesting problems: a definition

A problem is interesting when… 1. It’s important to someone Presumably because solving it will make things better.* The problem won’t be important to everyone, so by definition it won’t be interesting to everyone either. The problem will be valuable in proportion to the number of people it is important to, and how intensely they feel its importance. This means…