Getting Better at Figuring Things Out

Over the years, I’ve employed quite a few people. Sometimes it will be a contract for a one-time job. Other times it will be for regular staff.

In both cases, there’s a certain quality some people possess that I’ve found immensely valuable, but rarely shows up on a resume. If I had to describe it, I would say the quality is roughly “being able to figure things out.”

Some people are good at figuring things out. You can give them a goal, sometimes with ambiguous instructions or constraints, and they will find a way to do it. It may not always be the way you envisioned (especially if your instructions are bad) but these people rarely get stuck. They will find some way to figure it out.

Other people are terrible at figuring things out. You can give them extremely detailed instructions and somehow they still get derailed because of an incredibly minor obstacle. Assigning such people tasks with any ambiguity is always a disaster.

Employing people brings this quality into contrast, but it’s not just a skill to be exploited by employers. People who are good at figuring things out for their bosses are generally even better at figuring things out for themselves. They make good entrepreneurs, inventors, researchers and artists.

What Makes Someone Good at “Figuring Things Out”?

Intelligence is obviously an important part of figuring things out. Smarter people have an easier time working through the obstacles that may frustrate a particular goal.

However, my inclination is to say that figuring things out is a lot more than intelligence. It’s also a perspective on life. I’ve met plenty of smart people that can’t figure things out. I’ve also met people who aren’t intellectually dominating who, nonetheless, can figure their way out of problems I wouldn’t know where to start with.

People who are bad at figuring things out tend to have unrealistic expectations for the system they’re operating in to conform to rules or norms of fairness. When those rules are violated, they’ve learned that the best response isn’t to investigate, but to wait for instructions.

School is a system that discourages figuring things out. It presents itself as an artificially rule-based and bureaucratic system. Success and failure is based on pre-defined standards. Students are told what will be covered on the test in advance. Exploiting weaknesses in the rule-set is often seen as a form of “cheating” even if the exploit isn’t unethical (I can think of classes where professors would fail students for lack of attendance, even if their grades were good).

Schools also strive for much higher levels of fairness than in the real world. Most universities bar native speakers of a language from attending language classes. Only in an academic setting is this anything other than ridiculous—that you would be forbidden from studying something by virtue of already having mastered it outside of the school system.

Being good at figuring things out is a skill in opposition to scholastic skills. It’s the ability to work within environments where the constraints and standards of success are often ill-defined. It’s the ability to remain motivated despite the fact that there is no standards of fairness at all.

Prerequisite Levels of “Figuring Things Out” to Achievement

Many goals require a certain minimum level of being able to figure things out in order to possibly have any success with them. This may be unfortunate (especially if you’re bad at figuring things out) but it is very true.

I took Ramit Sethi’s online information business building course. Inside the course, some people disliked that the instructions weren’t specific enough—that Sethi focus was on high-level concepts to orient your actions rather than giving a detailed technical walkthroughs.

Of course, this is absurd. If you can’t figure out find and follow numerous free tutorials for setting up a blog or shopping cart, how can you possibly think you’ll run a real business? Running an online business has a minimum threshold of “figuring things out” of which setting up a WordPress blog is well below.

Similarly, I sometimes get emails from people wanting to replicate the MIT Challenge, but need to know the exact hours I worked or exact order of the courses I took. I’m sorry, but if you can’t figure that out, how are you going to perform on the material? What will you do when you find out that a key concept was only explained in a lecture, which isn’t available? Or when you have to take a project-based class that only has rough slideshows as its sole instructional material?

My point isn’t to discourage people from starting businesses or teaching themselves online, of course. I think doing these activities will probably boost your ability to figure things out. It’s rather that the expectations these people have for how detailed and exhaustive instructions should be before they can take action is ridiculously self-defeating.

How to Get Better at Figuring Things Out

Some people are naturally very creative and quick-witted, and will become master hackers, inventors or entrepreneurs. I don’t doubt that figuring things out has a component of natural, latent ability, of which some people are born with more and others less.

Richard Feynman, for instance, the Nobel-prize winning physicist, learned how to fix radios by tinkering with them as a young boy. Eventually he got good enough that he was fixing other people’s radios on his own. That’s a talent for problem solving that would eventually lead him to making breakthroughs in physics and helping design the atomic bomb.

But even if some people are naturally more intuitive at figuring things out, I think it is still a skill one can learn. If you want to get better at figuring things out, here’s how to do it:

1. Do More Projects that Require Figuring Things Out

Figuring things out is a skill, and like all skills, it improves with practice. Even more importantly, it improves best when the skill you’re trying to build is similar to the one you’re practicing. Figuring out how to do paintings will have less utility than figuring out how to do computer programming if your goal is to be good at figuring things out as a software developer.

Being good at figuring things out is, ultimately, not only a set of dispositions and psychological strategies for dealing with frustrations and mental obstacles, but also domain-specific tricks and habits. Many IT people lament when they see that others haven’t learned the domain-specific trick of turning on and off the device to fix transient problems.

2. Become Patient in the Face of Frustration

Figuring things out is often largely a matter of trial and error with patience. It took me five years to figure out how to make blogging a full-time income source, for instance. In that time I tried hundreds of different things until I eventually settled on a combination that worked.

Patience is a mental habit and discipline. The ability to face an ambiguous situation, with constraints which prevent progress, and not give up is one that takes experience to learn.

Although I’ve mentioned the degrading effect I feel the overly rule-based school system has on this ability, figuring things out is obviously related to learning better. Which is why it amazes me that, for many students, the idea that you should sit down and force yourself to truly understand an idea before moving on is novel advice.

3. Avoid Environments Which Punish Deviating from Exact Instructions

A corollary to this would obviously be—if you want employees to be good at figuring things out, don’t punish them for it. 

Some jobs and environments require exact instructions and deviations should be punished. I wouldn’t want my surgeon to just try things out until I’m healed. But most environments aren’t like this, or if they are, it is needlessly so.

Spending more time in environments which reward figuring things out is a way to get over the psychological objections to it. Those objections can come from a belief that if something is mildly difficult, you’re doing it wrong, and worse, that if the outcome is correct but instructions weren’t followed exactly, you’ll be punished.

How Do You Rate Yourself at Figuring Things Out?

You might look to certain areas of your life where you’ve unconsciously adopted the right attitudes and domain-specific tricks to be good at figuring things out, while in others you shy away from it. I’ve noticed, for instance, that I’m good at figuring things out for my business, but I’m much worse at figuring things out in order to save money shopping.

What would you rate yourself for this skill? What are areas you’d like to get better at figuring things out? What are areas where you feel held back by your environment because it punishes experimentation and innovation in solutions? Share your thoughts in the comments!

  • Gianni Cara

    Interesting discussion, Scott.

    I think that being a curious person is a good starting point to make someone good at “figuring things out”. But like you said, not everyone is born with certain traits.

    I lived in 4 different countries, and I believe that having to adapt to different places is also a good way to get better at figuring things out.

    I also believe that bosses can help employees to improve on that. I remember when my first boss ignored most of my calls during my first month working for him. He quickly realized that I would only call him when I had a problem. He then decided to not answer me and see what happens. The result was that most of the time I would figure out how to solve it by myself.

  • Gianni Cara

    Interesting discussion, Scott.

    I think that being a curious person is a good starting point to make someone good at “figuring things out”. But like you said, not everyone is born with certain traits.

    I lived in 4 different countries, and I believe that having to adapt to different places is also a good way to get better at figuring things out.

    I also believe that bosses can help employees to improve on that. I remember when my first boss ignored most of my calls during my first month working for him. He quickly realized that I would only call him when I had a problem. He then decided to not answer me and see what happens. The result was that most of the time I would figure out how to solve it by myself.

  • I get the point you’re making about the MIT Challenge and Ramit Sethi’s course. However, there is a valid reason for people in the online course business to provide more step-by-step guidance and specific advice than students should strictly need. The reason is that some types of activities, like starting an online business or taking college courses without being enrolled, are so far beyond what most people experience that there may be no way to explain them properly without very specific advice. This is partly due to the issues you cite in this post — the school system, traditional employers, and other institutions tend to prepare people only for traditional jobs.

    I think people who build online courses know this. In his promotional material, Ramit promises to provide “exact action steps” and “word-for-word scripts.” And in one of your bootcamp emails, you specified the exact schedule you used during the MIT challenge (7am-5 or 6 pm, and later on 9am to 4 or 5 pm). I think for most people, trying to replicate this schedule even for a few days would provide some enlightenment about the nature of that project. That would be harder to communicate with a more general description like “I worked six days per week for a year.”

    Here’s a theory. Maybe what people actually need in order to get better at figuring things out is more specific advice, followed by the opportunity to sink or swim on their own. In some ways school and college reward following exact instructions, as you pointed out. But in other ways students are left to their own devices. In my experience, schools aren’t good at teaching study techniques. The problems that students have to solve are artificial, but when it comes to learning how to learn, students are often on their own.

  • parvinder

    I liked the article very much. Figuring things out is a way of life. If we develop this attitude the organisation will have less need of people wasting time in waiting for instructions. I myself figured a lot of stuff when my manager went on sudden vacation. Initialy I felt awful but at the end of it, I learnt so much.

  • parvinder

    I liked the article very much. Figuring things out is a way of life. If we develop this attitude the organisation will have less need of people wasting time in waiting for instructions. I myself figured a lot of stuff when my manager went on sudden vacation. Initialy I felt awful but at the end of it, I learnt so much.

  • Just anyone.

    Hi!
    I am sorry for not responding to the article but to make a comment about your blog in general.
    I read this blog for a certain time and my critique is that I think you don’t talk about people enough.
    You know, mathematics weren’t censored during the War periods (First and second world war). History and philosophy were.
    You mention one or two people but we are going to be 10 billion people in 2050. We are a lot on earth. Each of us does not speak alone!
    Is it normal that you don’t talk about the world ? the real world ? people in the world and the changes from the current situation of the world you want to see?
    The travel video in China and in all the countries was good because there were real people in the pictures of your documentary. You were with other and you showed different social settings to us.
    This is what is laching in the articles you do : “people in the pictures” (not necessarily iconographic pictures).
    For my part, I would like to see much more pictures or mentions of people at different scales (groups, people from countries).
    I think this would really make your blog better, if you talked about the society of today.
    If you ask, I can give you examples of what I mean.
    I may ask you what is your purpose with this blog : you may want to formulate it like: I….. and I want to keep doing it (and you may want to modify it later).
    Please take it good. Please ask for clarifications.
    Thank you.
    Just anyone.

  • Just anyone.

    Hi!
    I am sorry for not responding to the article but to make a comment about your blog in general.
    I read this blog for a certain time and my critique is that I think you don’t talk about people enough.
    You know, mathematics weren’t censored during the War periods (First and second world war). History and philosophy were.
    You mention one or two people but we are going to be 10 billion people in 2050. We are a lot on earth. Each of us does not speak alone!
    Is it normal that you don’t talk about the world ? the real world ? people in the world and the changes from the current situation of the world you want to see?
    The travel video in China and in all the countries was good because there were real people in the pictures of your documentary. You were with other and you showed different social settings to us.
    This is what is laching in the articles you do : “people in the pictures” (not necessarily iconographic pictures).
    For my part, I would like to see much more pictures or mentions of people at different scales (groups, people from countries).
    I think this would really make your blog better, if you talked about the society of today.
    If you ask, I can give you examples of what I mean.
    I may ask you what is your purpose with this blog : you may want to formulate it like: I….. and I want to keep doing it (and you may want to modify it later).
    Please take it good. Please ask for clarifications.
    Thank you.
    Just anyone.

  • just anyone

    lacking*

  • just anyone

    lacking*

  • just anyone

    the society today*

  • just anyone

    the society today*

  • MikeT29

    It’s too bad you aren’t working on a PhD in Psychology because I think the trait you bring up, a willingness/desire to “figure things out” plays a huge role in success. Long having recognized that intelligence alone isn’t a great predictor of success (although of course its good to have) the field has turned to explanations such as social intelligence. But I think it would be possible to demonstrate the trait of figuring things out has been under-appreciated in explaining success.

    I can give 2 examples that involve this trait. The first is on-the-job performance. There are some people who figure their job is done as soon as they figure out the problem isn’t in an area they are responsible for. In an engineering setting nothing is as frustrating as someone who stops as soon as they find “this doesn’t work”. “Did you try to narrow down when the problem happens?”, you ask. Nope. “Did you see if any changes could make it go away?”. Nope. They were asked to test something and they aren’t willing to do one iota more.

    The second is in interviewing new college grads. When talking to kids from 2 very selective programs, one a large public U and one a smaller private, a few questions are usually sufficient to tell them apart. If you ask them to apply a specific technique both are equally proficient. But it was surprising and disappointing to find that if instead you phrased the question such that the kid would have to figure out to apply the technique, the kids from the public were utterly lost. I attribute this to the education system. My best is that in the larger public with TAs having large numbers of papers to grade it was more efficient to ask point-blank for the students to use a specified method to solve a problem. And they could do that, but they had never had a chance to practice actual problem-solving skills, the ones employers want to hire them for.

  • MikeT29

    It’s too bad you aren’t working on a PhD in Psychology because I think the trait you bring up, a willingness/desire to “figure things out” plays a huge role in success. Long having recognized that intelligence alone isn’t a great predictor of success (although of course its good to have) the field has turned to explanations such as social intelligence. But I think it would be possible to demonstrate the trait of figuring things out has been under-appreciated in explaining success.

    I can give 2 examples that involve this trait. The first is on-the-job performance. There are some people who figure their job is done as soon as they figure out the problem isn’t in an area they are responsible for. In an engineering setting nothing is as frustrating as someone who stops as soon as they find “this doesn’t work”. “Did you try to narrow down when the problem happens?”, you ask. Nope. “Did you see if any changes could make it go away?”. Nope. They were asked to test something and they aren’t willing to do one iota more.

    The second is in interviewing new college grads. When talking to kids from 2 very selective programs, one a large public U and one a smaller private, a few questions are usually sufficient to tell them apart. If you ask them to apply a specific technique both are equally proficient. But it was surprising and disappointing to find that if instead you phrased the question such that the kid would have to figure out to apply the technique, the kids from the public were utterly lost. I attribute this to the education system. My best is that in the larger public with TAs having large numbers of papers to grade it was more efficient to ask point-blank for the students to use a specified method to solve a problem. And they could do that, but they had never had a chance to practice actual problem-solving skills, the ones employers want to hire them for.

  • Someone else

    There are already enough blogs about these kind of things on the internet. This blog is devoted to learning and personal development.

  • Someone else

    There are already enough blogs about these kind of things on the internet. This blog is devoted to learning and personal development.

  • Thanks Scott for your wise words. I appreciate it and going to figure something out 🙂

  • Waqar Ahmed Shar

    Thanks Scott for your wise words. I appreciate it and going to figure something out 🙂

  • Anna Sarah

    I would consider myself quite good at figuring things out – and I am also quite sure why I am like that: I was (and still am) very shy and always had great trouble asking others for help, directions, instructions etc. Which means I had to figure things out. It is one really great advantage of being an introvert!
    By the way – great blog! As a learning addict, I always find interesting ideas here!

  • Anna Sarah

    I would consider myself quite good at figuring things out – and I am also quite sure why I am like that: I was (and still am) very shy and always had great trouble asking others for help, directions, instructions etc. Which means I had to figure things out. It is one really great advantage of being an introvert!
    By the way – great blog! As a learning addict, I always find interesting ideas here!

  • Gaoyunlu

    I get a lot of skills from your book “Learn more, study less”. However, the most difficult part for me is that I either overestimate the time of a plan or underestimate it. I used to overestimate the time I needed at the beginning and felt worried for about several weeks (because I thought I couldn’t finish it)before I really began my plan. After really starting the plan, I tended to underestimate the time because I found it was not as difficult as I imagined. Now I think if I don’t worry for several weeks but regard a few weeks as the buffer of the plan, it would be better. I should take the “buffer” time into account after I make the plan. If I plan to finish a project in one month, I imagine I’m going to take it in three weeks. If I really prepared well in three weeks, I would take a rest in a last week. If I don’t, I still have one week as a buffer. Estimating a creative work is certainly a difficult question and learning speed is not linear either. Errors can’t be eliminated but can be amended.

  • Gaoyunlu

    I get a lot of skills from your book “Learn more, study less”. However, the most difficult part for me is that I either overestimate the time of a plan or underestimate it. I used to overestimate the time I needed at the beginning and felt worried for about several weeks (because I thought I couldn’t finish it)before I really began my plan. After really starting the plan, I tended to underestimate the time because I found it was not as difficult as I imagined. Now I think if I don’t worry for several weeks but regard a few weeks as the buffer of the plan, it would be better. I should take the “buffer” time into account after I make the plan. If I plan to finish a project in one month, I imagine I’m going to take it in three weeks. If I really prepared well in three weeks, I would take a rest in a last week. If I don’t, I still have one week as a buffer. Estimating a creative work is certainly a difficult question and learning speed is not linear either. Errors can’t be eliminated but can be amended.

  • dpcdpc11

    Not sure why you would mention Feynman’s atomic bomb contribution… he was never very proud of that as no one should be! It was after all a contribution to genocide!
    I’m one of those who are good at figuring things out… and I would recommend video gaming as another way to improve this “skill”. Specially the puzzle, adventure and strategy games thought me a lot about figuring things out. After all they were made by people who could do this.
    Off topic… the paragraph font is too big for desktop! About 20px would be enough with a line-height of 1.4

  • dpcdpc11

    Not sure why you would mention Feynman’s atomic bomb contribution… he was never very proud of that as no one should be! It was after all a contribution to genocide!
    I’m one of those who are good at figuring things out… and I would recommend video gaming as another way to improve this “skill”. Specially the puzzle, adventure and strategy games thought me a lot about figuring things out. After all they were made by people who could do this.
    Off topic… the paragraph font is too big for desktop! About 20px would be enough with a line-height of 1.4

  • Jordan Anderson

    Gianni, I had the same experience with my boss, but when trying to implement the same method for my employees, I noticed that it often fails. The employee will wait for clarification from me and absolve themselves of responsibility in the meantime.

    One idea I had for future batches of employees was not to ignore their questions, but to get them to ask good questions, a la http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html#before. Going through the process of asking a thoughtful question often brings me to the answer, since I have to consider questions others might ask in response to mine.

    Scott, when trying to determine how to teach this skill (as I believe it’s the top skill for technical employees), I often fail on your point 3: “Avoid Environments Which Punish Deviating from Exact Instructions”. If I ask an employee-in-training to do a key task, I vacillate between specific instructions and broad guidelines, in a way that is probably inconsistent with learning how to figure things out. It doesn’t help that I’m a binary, efficiency-focused person; in my mind, there is a right (most effective/efficient) way and a thousand wrong ways.

    Your post has inspired me to set broader objectives and refrain from specifying “best practices” to employees, since they can sound like “the only way to accomplish this task”. Once they develop the “figuring things out” skill more, I can reintroduce best practices.

  • Jordan Anderson

    Gianni, I had the same experience with my boss, but when trying to implement the same method for my employees, I noticed that it often fails. The employee will wait for clarification from me and absolve themselves of responsibility in the meantime.

    One idea I had for future batches of employees was not to ignore their questions, but to get them to ask good questions, a la http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/smar…. Going through the process of asking a thoughtful question often brings me to the answer, since I have to consider questions others might ask in response to mine.

    Scott, when trying to determine how to teach this skill (as I believe it’s the top skill for technical employees), I often fail on your point 3: “Avoid Environments Which Punish Deviating from Exact Instructions”. If I ask an employee-in-training to do a key task, I vacillate between specific instructions and broad guidelines, in a way that is probably inconsistent with learning how to figure things out. It doesn’t help that I’m a binary, efficiency-focused person; in my mind, there is a right (most effective/efficient) way and a thousand wrong ways.

    Your post has inspired me to set broader objectives and refrain from specifying “best practices” to employees, since they can sound like “the only way to accomplish this task”. Once they develop the “figuring things out” skill more, I can reintroduce best practices.

  • D McCormack

    I have a similar attribute.

    While in primary school I was quite introverted (and bad at getting the teacher’s attention) so as a result, rather than asking others for help I would spend as long as necessary to work it out by myself. I still remember when I was 8 or 9yo the teacher during our maths lesson, being surprised that I worked out a different method to the one she explained (how to work out the percentage of a number), she even used it in the next lesson and called it ‘Dwayne’s method’ (positive reinforcement! Lol).

    As a side effect I became someone who would work most things out in the end but took the longest to complete my work in areas of school that I was less strong in (ADD anyone?)

    It’s important to be capable of figuring things out but if I take too long then I’m not really “capable”.

    (Or is that the unforgiving mentality Scott mentions that schools encourage?!)

  • Duo

    I have a similar attribute.

    While in primary school I was quite introverted (and bad at getting the teacher’s attention) so as a result, rather than asking others for help I would spend as long as necessary to work it out by myself. I still remember when I was 8 or 9yo the teacher during our maths lesson, being surprised that I worked out a different method to the one she explained (how to work out the percentage of a number), she even used it in the next lesson and called it ‘Dwayne’s method’ (positive reinforcement! Lol).

    As a side effect I became someone who would work most things out in the end but took the longest to complete my work in areas of school that I was less strong in (ADD anyone?)

    It’s important to be capable of figuring things out but if I take too long then I’m not really “capable”.

    (Or is that the unforgiving mentality Scott mentions that schools encourage?!)

  • Bob Swanson

    Wow! What a great blog post! I really enjoy your blogs. Your articles on the multifaceted concepts of work, physical and mental, are very enlightening and refreshing to my personal ideas surrounding the current universities business model of education. I’m guilty of trying to learn a concept before I move on, so thank you for the start of getting rid of a bad habit. Hiring a person that can figure things on their own allows all those feel good emotions such as trust, respect and team. What are your thoughts on the emotional impact on relationships, professional or personal, when people “wait for instruction”?
    Thanks again,
    Bob

  • Bob Swanson

    Wow! What a great blog post! I really enjoy your blogs. Your articles on the multifaceted concepts of work, physical and mental, are very enlightening and refreshing to my personal ideas surrounding the current universities business model of education. I’m guilty of trying to learn a concept before I move on, so thank you for the start of getting rid of a bad habit. Hiring a person that can figure things on their own allows all those feel good emotions such as trust, respect and team. What are your thoughts on the emotional impact on relationships, professional or personal, when people “wait for instruction”?
    Thanks again,
    Bob

  • Alex Clifford

    I think the ability to “figure things out” correlates with natural curiosity and engagement.

    And guess what? Curious engaged people care, solve problems better and create magnitudes more value than disengaged rule-followers. They have more zest for life. They feel and experience so much more.

    In fact I’d go further to say this is the one trait I look for in all my friendships, relationships and work.

    A curious person is always fascinating to be around. And the reason I get so annoyed all the time is because people sell out their curiosity to fit in and be popular. But I guess that’s something I need to accept.

  • Alex Clifford

    I think the ability to “figure things out” correlates with natural curiosity and engagement.

    And guess what? Curious engaged people care, solve problems better and create magnitudes more value than disengaged rule-followers. They have more zest for life. They feel and experience so much more.

    In fact I’d go further to say this is the one trait I look for in all my friendships, relationships and work.

    A curious person is always fascinating to be around. And the reason I get so annoyed all the time is because people sell out their curiosity to fit in and be popular. But I guess that’s something I need to accept.

  • Kenneth Bruskiewicz

    I’m probably OK at figuring things out. Not the best though. I’ve done a good handful of computing projects and have engaged in two early-stage business projects and even though both involve “figuring things out” I definitely prefer the former. There’s just enough structure in a good computing problem to have certainty when you have a working answer, but just enough ambiguity to open up to a creative approach and giving a great answer. Business by contrast is so much more unstructured and perpetual, and also involves intangibles that I’m currently not used to dealing with. So I need more practice avoiding freeze when solving problems needing those sorts of resources.

    Ultimately I believe that one of the keys to becoming good at figuring things out is learning to “keep up the momentum”. Patience is dual to this. If you’re patient in the face of frustration, you’re conserving your momentum. If you’re willing to start somewhere, anywhere to tackle a problem and extract some kind of information from it, you increase your momentum. There should be some willingness to deal with partial or incomplete answers as well as the ability to see how those half-answers work towards the full one.

    Starbird and Berger’s book “5 Elements of Effective Thinking” and Starbird’s EdX course seems to have some decent actionables in that regard when it comes to practicing that mindset.

  • Kenneth Bruskiewicz

    I’m probably OK at figuring things out. Not the best though. I’ve done a good handful of computing projects and have engaged in two early-stage business projects and even though both involve “figuring things out” I definitely prefer the former. There’s just enough structure in a good computing problem to have certainty when you have a working answer, but just enough ambiguity to open up to a creative approach and giving a great answer. Business by contrast is so much more unstructured and perpetual, and also involves intangibles that I’m currently not used to dealing with. So I need more practice avoiding freeze when solving problems needing those sorts of resources.

    Ultimately I believe that one of the keys to becoming good at figuring things out is learning to “keep up the momentum”. Patience is dual to this. If you’re patient in the face of frustration, you’re conserving your momentum. If you’re willing to start somewhere, anywhere to tackle a problem and extract some kind of information from it, you increase your momentum. There should be some willingness to deal with partial or incomplete answers as well as the ability to see how those half-answers work towards the full one.

    Starbird and Berger’s book “5 Elements of Effective Thinking” and Starbird’s EdX course seems to have some decent actionables in that regard when it comes to practicing that mindset.

  • Gianni Cara

    I understand your point, Jordan.

    I think this is in a way similar to teaching a kid how to ride a bike. You give them some guidance, show yourself how you do it and then let them give it a try. It’s more like a process, and I feel that you have to give them space at some point, so they can figure it out by themselves.

    But then, of course, there are employees and employees. That’s why sometimes it’s better to get one that can figure things out than another that is very skilled but can adapt when facing a new challenge.

  • Gianni Cara

    I understand your point, Jordan.

    I think this is in a way similar to teaching a kid how to ride a bike. You give them some guidance, show yourself how you do it and then let them give it a try. It’s more like a process, and I feel that you have to give them space at some point, so they can figure it out by themselves.

    But then, of course, there are employees and employees. That’s why sometimes it’s better to get one that can figure things out than another that is very skilled but can adapt when facing a new challenge.

  • Karan Bhatia

    “Which is why it amazes me that, for many students, the idea that you
    should sit down and force yourself to truly understand an idea before
    moving on is novel advice.”

    I didn’t understand above statement, if you could elaborate?

    and Thank you for your amazing blog. It has been best help. 🙂

  • Karan Bhatia

    “Which is why it amazes me that, for many students, the idea that you
    should sit down and force yourself to truly understand an idea before
    moving on is novel advice.”

    I didn’t understand above statement, if you could elaborate?

    and Thank you for your amazing blog. It has been best help. 🙂

  • Karan Bhatia

    I totally agree with you on that, Alex. 🙂

  • Karan Bhatia

    I totally agree with you on that, Alex. 🙂

  • Avinash Suresh

    Not only schools, even colleges follow the trend of discouraging the skill of figuring out things.
    For example, students are not allowed to experiment(and learn) on their own during practicals in the laboratory.

    There are instructors who just seem to pound on the ‘rules’ of the experiment in the form of instructions.They don’t care whether the students understand.They don’t explain the necessary theory behind it, not even an intuition…

    If the student has got all the ‘know-hows’ and ‘why-that-hows'(which is found by individual experimentation), he can complete the experiment with much less confusion.Unfortunately, the instructors don’t seem to understand this.

  • Avinash Suresh

    Not only schools, even colleges follow the trend of discouraging the skill of figuring out things.
    For example, students are not allowed to experiment(and learn) on their own during practicals in the laboratory.

    There are instructors who just seem to pound on the ‘rules’ of the experiment in the form of instructions.They don’t care whether the students understand.They don’t explain the necessary theory behind it, not even an intuition…

    If the student has got all the ‘know-hows’ and ‘why-that-hows'(which is found by individual experimentation), he can complete the experiment with much less confusion.Unfortunately, the instructors don’t seem to understand this.

  • Avinash Suresh

    I am curious to learn new things.And I also feel that curiosity gives rise to intuition.But this intuition is destroyed by the monotonous collegiate system.
    I very much agree with you…
    I don’t want to be a rule-follower, but that’s what I have to do by listening to boring instructions from those who are more experienced than me(of course, you can’t beat their experience!).

  • Avinash Suresh

    I am curious to learn new things.And I also feel that curiosity gives rise to intuition.But this intuition is destroyed by the monotonous collegiate system.
    I very much agree with you…
    I don’t want to be a rule-follower, but that’s what I have to do by listening to boring instructions from those who are more experienced than me(of course, you can’t beat their experience!).

  • Mahlon Barrault

    None of the scientists involved were proud of how their research was used but that does not change the fact that their work was transformational for physics. Scott was highlighting that fact in harmony with the theme of this post.

  • Mahlon Barrault

    None of the scientists involved were proud of how their research was used but that does not change the fact that their work was transformational for physics. Scott was highlighting that fact in harmony with the theme of this post.

  • Thanks for the insights. I am incredibly amazed at how detailed these comments are

  • Will Chou

    Thanks for the insights. I am incredibly amazed at how detailed these comments are

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