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It may seem naive, but isn't the answer to your question the scientific method? Isn't that how great scientific and medical advances are made? 1) gather information, 2)hypothocize, 3)experiment, 4)evaluate.
That is the discipline that keeps one from just randomly trying things out and failing...it is the mental discipline that differentiates the winners from the also rans. It is the bureaucratic crap that pops up in organizations that makes work hard. Eliminate the bureacracy and success grows. Sounds simple, but that's what I think...I will be watching for your analysis at your blog.
(I got turned on to your stuff from your comments on the Slacker-Manager Showdown).

Ben Atkin

Tom, I agree about the scientific method.

This is my first visit to the site. I am going to look somewhere else for now, and will return after a while. But I'd like to say that so far all I've read is this entry and the introduction at the top of the blog. I am not particularly impressed by this entry (saying philosophers have never attempted to explain this is incorrect, I believe), but the introduction is absolutely awesome.

Fred Gratzon

I knew some readers would automatically mention the Scientific Method but I am not going in that direction. Plus the Scientific Method doesn't cut it as a way to solve problems if your hypothesis is wrong in the first place. You merely end up learning your hypothesis flawed. Unfortunately the most common response to that situation is not to change the hypothesis but to conclude that you need to work harder to prove your hypothesis correct.

By the way, few discoveries of note were arrived at step-by-step via Sir Francis Bacon’s Scientific Method. In that light, here’s an interesting quote from Hans Selye, the world renowned medical doctor:

“Just what did Bacon discover? He is like an aged ballet teacher who tells others how to do it. Those who have made the most discoveries have known Bacon least. Those who study Bacon, like Bacon himself, have not succeeded well.”

I will be unfolding my argument over the next several days. So hang in there. A blog may not be the best vehicle for what I am attempting but I’m into experimenting with this medium. Not only that, I’ve got a wonderful audience.



My first thought on reading your post was "What about TRIZ?" (a great overview of TRIZ is the first result when you google 'general theory of problem solving'). Yes, it's limited to the domain of invention, but I think it has the characteristics of what you're describing.

My second thought was of Goldratt's Thinking Processes and TOC. I'd be interested in learning why you think they don't fit the bill.

I eagerly await the rest of the series!


I came across this article that I thought was interesting and appropriate for the discussion of failure:


It deals with the importance of studying failure regarding engineering, but the concept applies to other disciplines.


The first step in solving a problem is to find the right problem and then only we will be able to ask the right question to find the right solution.

Some drugs have side effects because it is not the exact medicine for that particular disease.

This is also the case with solving problems. A particular problem may have more than one solution.

Science is NOT a sure thing. A scientific solution may produce the same result to an experiment done by different people in different circumstances but this may be a wrong notion.

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