Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 27;   July 5, 2017: Tackling Hard Problems: II

Tackling Hard Problems: II

by

In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end.
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightning

Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightning. Moderately big, continent-sized dust storms occur several times per Mars year, which is about 687 Earth days. And, on average, once every three Mars years, a dust storm will grow to cover the entire planet. Dust is a real problem for mechanical equipment. As experience with rover vehicles has already revealed, dust can penetrate gear assemblies and other moving parts. And it reduces the efficiency of solar panels, which makes regular cleaning necessary even outside the context of dust storms. Read about dust on Mars. Image courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Last time, we described an approach to solving difficult problems that I called "Right-To-Left Thinking," where we imagine that we've found a path to our objective, and then ask, what enabled us to reach the objective? I called the list of those items pre-Objectives. We illustrated all this for the problem of establishing a Mars colony. This time, we'll continue developing pre-objectives, and then connect the beginning to the objectives.

Make pre-pre-objectives
Now that we have some pre-objectives, adopt them as the objective, and ask the same question we asked about the original objective: "If we reached the pre-objectives, what enabled us to do it?" The answer: pre-pre-objectives. Repeat this until we can't move back any further to the "left."
For the Mars colony, we ask where is there enough water to meet the colony's needs? How much power is needed to extract the water and break it down for oxygen? How thick a layer of soil would provide adequate radiation shielding? And so on.
Go back to the beginning
Now that we Getting traction on a hard
problem is easier if you can
clarify where you have to go
have some objectives, pre-objectives, and pre-pre-objectives, let's examine what we actually have to begin with. List conceptual and material assets, including things we know and things we have. Don't list everything — we can always add items later.
For the Mars colony, we know we must send material to make a power plant, a power storage facility, transportation vehicles, a water harvesting plant, a waste treatment and water recovery facility, construction equipment, a GPS navigational system, habitat, water and oxygen storage, food production facility, and so on. Multiple supply trips from Earth are required, even if the structures can mostly be robotically 3D-printed from Martian material. Much of the needed equipment can be prepositioned, if we know where to put it.
Move forward from the beginning
Next, find a path toward the "right" from the beginning to someplace closer to the "leftmost" pre-objectives. Construct a list of what must be done with the assets we have. Cleverly, I call this a To-Do List.
For the Mars colony, we need detailed maps of enough terrain to select a settlement site. Are there any caves? Which parts of the Martian surface have enough water? To calculate power storage requirements, we need to know the frequency, intensity, and duration of dust storms. Dust storms present other problems as well, because the dust particles can affect mechanical equipment, and because they support electrical discharges — lightning. Therefore we need to know how to protect equipment from dust and lightning. We can conduct this research from Earth and from Mars orbit, to assist in planning.

Working from the beginning is much easier when we have our pre-objectives in mind. They guide our thinking about the beginning. And so it goes, toggling back and forth between "left" and "right," until we can connect the beginning to the end. Voila! See you on Mars. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Performance Issues for Nonsupervisors  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:

Finger PuzzlesFinger Puzzles and "Common Sense"
Working on complex projects, we often face a choice between "just do it" and "wait, let's think this through first." Choosing to just do it can seem to be the shortest path to the goal, but it rarely is. It's an example of a Finger Puzzle.
A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaDecisions: How Looping Back Helps
Group decision making often proceeds through a series of steps including forming a list of options, researching them, ranking them, reducing them, and finally selecting one. Often, this linear approach yields disappointing results. Why?
The U.S. F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter lifts off for its first training sortie March 6, 2012, at Eglin Air Force Base, FloridaWishful Thinking and Perception: II
Continuing our exploration of causes of wishful thinking and what we can do about it, here's Part II of a little catalog of ways our preferences and wishes affect our perceptions.
COL Michael Wyly, USMC (ret)Call in the Right Expert
When solving a problem is beyond us, we turn to experts, but sometimes we turn to the wrong experts. That can make the problem even worse. Why? How does this happen? What can we do about it?
Bottom: Aerial view of the Forth Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland. Top: Inside the Forth Rail Bridge, from a ScotRail 158 on August 22, 1999.Conway's Law and Technical Debt
Conway's Law is an observation that the structures of systems we design tend to replicate our communication patterns. This tendency might also contribute to their tendency to accumulate what we now call technical debt.

See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Two bull elk sparring in Grand Teton National Park, WyomingComing February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
Stained Glass of William of Ockham in a church in Surrey, England, United KingdomAnd on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.