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:
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- At times it seems that nothing works. Whenever we try to get moving, we encounter obstacles. If we try
to go around them, we find more obstacles. How do we get stuck? And how can we get unstuck?
- Ten Tactics for Tough Times: I
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for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part I of a set of
approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
- Group Problem-Solving Tangles
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of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling
these threads can make discussions much more effective.
- Wishful Significance: II
- When we're beset by seemingly unresolvable problems, we sometimes conclude that "wishful thinking"
was the cause. Wishful thinking can result from errors in assessing the significance of our observations.
Here's a second group of causes of erroneous assessment of significance.
- Cost Concerns: Comparisons
- When we assess the costs of different options for solving a problem, we must take care not to commit
a variety of errors in approach. These errors can lead to flawed decisions. One activity at risk for
error is comparing the costs of two options.
See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
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