Which Problem-Solving Picture Are You Seeing?

Many years ago, I asked Mark, “Where do you go when you sleep?” I was curious. I was thinking of things such as “the soul takes over,” or “your dreams take you away” or some such philosophical waxing.

Mark answered, “First I start on my left side. Then I go to my right side. Sometimes I end up in the middle…”

He stopped because I had collapsed in laughter on the floor. I wasn’t laughing at him. I was laughing at the difference between us. I was starting with the BIG picture, off in la-la land, and he was starting in the details.

When it’s time to solve problems, I bet you prefer to start from either one place or another, the big picture, or the details. If you’re going to solve problems, it helps to have access to both sides.

Knowing which preference you have is helpful. Preference is not destiny. It’s a preference. What you can see so clearly is Mark’s preference to start with the details and build the big picture from the details: what in Meyers-Briggs terms is called a “Sensing” preference. What you see in my preference to start at the 50,000 or 100,000 foot level and move down to the details is called the iNtuitive preference. We’re both practical and pragmatic. (I hate it when the Meyers-Briggs folks call one of the preferences pragmatic over the other. Hate it.) We can both access both preferences. But we have a preference to start from one place.

When I’m finishing a book, as I am now, I can be detailed. I start with a vision of where I want to go (the big picture), and I know my release criteria—what done means. I need to make myself checklists so I don’t forget anything. Notice that I start from the big picture. I start there, but I don’t stop there. I have learned that the big picture is insufficient.

I bet if Mark started a book, he would start with an outline. I do not outline. Oh, I write one. I never stick to it. Never. I suspect he keeps to his outlines. When I write books, I have what I call “suspect chapters” because I need a way to organize a book. I write the questions I want to answer at the top of each chapter. So far, for every book I’ve written, I have rearchitected the entire book: reorganized all the chapters and often the sections in the chapters. That doesn’t bother me, because I have my vision and release criteria. Anything in between is just problem solving. (This is how an iNtuitive solves problems. We wave our hands. Did you see that hand-waving, “just problem solving”? Not a big deal.) This is why I have such trouble publishing early on leanpub.

When I was a developer or a tester, and I had a problem, I kept an engineering notebook. I wrote the problem I wanted to solve at the top (the big picture). I recorded the combinations of what I tried and what I changed. Those details mattered. When I became a manager, I kept a management notebook. Same thing. For my crazy conditions, I keep a notebook and a pen with me to go to my various doctor appointments. Why? Because the details matter. I might have to use my Sensing preference to build a picture from the details.

The more you are able to access both the big picture and the details in your problem solving, the more adaptable you are as a problem solver. If you are like me, you have a strong preference that expresses itself in intersting ways,  such as when I asked Mark where he went when he slept.  Sometimes, given the problem, you’ll be wide open to possibilities.

Which problem solving picture do you start with? Which one is most comfortable? How hard do you have to flex to use the other? Is it worth practicing to try that one more often?

2 thoughts on “Which Problem-Solving Picture Are You Seeing?

  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 20 February 2014 | 5blogs

  2. Pingback: Why Ask Questions? | Create An Adaptable Life

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