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 gohave 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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Bois Sec!
- When your current approach isn't working, you can scrap whatever you're doing and start again —
if you have enough time and money. There's a less radical solution, and if it works, it's usually both
cheaper and faster.
- What Makes a Good Question?
- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the
answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
- How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Preferences
- When people collaborate on complex projects, the most desirable work tends to go to those with highest
status. When people work alone, they tend to spend more time on the parts of the effort they enjoy.
In both cases, preferences rule. Preferences can lead us astray.
- Managing Wishful Thinking Risk
- When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking.
Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking.
- Problem Displacement and Technical Debt
- The term problem displacement describes situations in which solving one problem creates another.
It sometimes leads to incurring technical debt. How? What can we do about it?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 27: Implicit Interrogations
- Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations? Available here and by RSS on November 27.
- And on December 4: Implicit Interrogation Tactics
- When one person tries surreptitiously to extract information from another at work, an implicit interrogation is taking place. Here are seven tactics that people use to interrogate others without revealing what they're doing. Available here and by RSS on December 4.
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