I’ve been reading a number of different perspectives related to problem solving, including topics on the mechanics and tactics our brains use to simplify problems (Herb Simon, Philip Johnson-Laird). I’ve examined the pitfalls people naturally encounter (Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman) and the way design thinking can lead us out of these traps (Chris Pacione).
One mechanism, that plays a role in problem solving, is the concept of heuristics. A heuristic is a technique that we intuitively develop while solving problems. As we’re faced with problems that are new to us we “explore different ‘moves’ in trying to solve (the) problem” - Philip Johnson-Laird. This leads to a “repertoire of tactics”. These heuristics allow us to simplify complex, ill structured problems into more manageable well structured problems – Herb Simon.
We create a path with heuristics that we travel down to find solutions. This path gives us direction, but it can also blind us to avenues outside this path. In design we understand that every time we travel down this path it’s different; it’s a non-deterministic process. This allows us to make seemingly disconnected leaps of understanding. As designers we use research to inform our intuition; during synthesis we draw on this intuition. The more flexible we are in making these leaps, the more creative and novel our ideas.
This is one of the things that separate humans from computers. Computers, in their current state, can’t solve human problems because humans are illogical players. Computers are restricted to applying logical sequences to inherently messy problems. Most of the well structured problems in the world can be (and are) solved by computers; only humans, in all their complexity, can solve human problems.
Below you’ll find a 2 X 2 diagram, positioning the authors I’ve been studying in relation to their thoughts on the role heuristics play in the problem solving process.
I’ve included myself in the chart, but haven’t placed myself on the graph itself. Truly novel ideas come from our breaking away from the comfort of heuristics and diving into the complexity of a problem. It becomes a journey; we start understanding a problem using our heuristics, and as we inform our intuition we’re able to tackle more of that complexity. Contained in that complexity is where we find new ideas.No Comments »