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You Are Solving The Wrong Problem | UX Magazine

May 4, 2011

 It’s easy for me to get bogged-down with a big vision. Sometimes I respond to a great task or challenge with inaction. Maybe I can’t see the solution up-front, or perhaps I’m afraid to fail. Other times, I respond with a flurry of activity, creating a whole process and environment in which to solve the problem–but never arriving at a solution. This article talks about how important it is for us to clearly see the true problem, not the most obvious one.

It talks about Paul McCready, the inventor of the first successful human-powered airplanes, and his brilliant insight into the real problem to be solved; it wasn’t how to get a human in the air. 

There is some problem you are trying to solve. In your life, at work, in a design. You are probably solving the wrong problem.Paul MacCready, considered to be one of the best mechanical engineers of the 20th century, said it best: “The problem is we don’t understand the problem.”

Article here: You Are Solving The Wrong Problem | UX Magazine.

His bottom-line:

When you are solving a difficult problem re-ask the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again. If the problem you are trying to solve involves creating a magnum opus, you are solving the wrong problem.

I was talking with my son recently about a college paper he needed to write. I knew that what he needed was to see the real problem, not the problem that had him stuck. He is hesitant to start down a wrong path. He wants to have it all together in advance so he doesn’t fail or waste his time. I encourage him to just get after it, write, outline, brainstorm. Encounter the hurdles, but do it aggressively, quickly. Sometimes the temptation is to finesse every sentence before moving on. That’s a killer.

The most successful projects I’ve done (and delivered on-time) are ones where I was not paralyzed by setting up the perfect system first or knowing that I was on the perfect trajectory from the beginning. I go after it, encounter failure of some sort, re-group and re-orient. That gets me there. I try (imperfectly) to apply this to my script writing, visual editing, presentations, and classes I teach. I am just as prone as my son to become paralyzed, to over analyze, and to never get started– even on something that means a lot to me.

“Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again.”  Good words.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 10, 2011 12:14 pm

    This is very helpful, Tom. Thanks for distilling the thoughts of Paul MacCready for us. Artist/filmmakers tend to be entrepreneurs who need to keep the grand picture in mind as their guiding light, but also have to break it down into increments. That’s a real challenge. I take it a little further and encourage myself with the thought that the circumstances which seem to interrupt and distract from the larger picture should also be incorporated as increments of the larger picture. All the little parts work together for good.

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