The Abstraction Method Helps You Solve Practical Problems

We often hear that distancing yourself from a problem or thinking about it from a different angle is the best way to work through it. Practically speaking, that's easier said than done. Over on 99U they have collected a few different methods for abstract problem solving that you can actually use.

Photo by Eli Chistman

The idea here is to distance yourself from a problem so you can solve that. This doesn't just mean taking a break. 99U has a few examples to help you rethink the problem from the bottom up:

To help yourself think about a problem you are solving more abstractly, it is useful to give yourself some distance from that problem. There are several ways to create that distance. Imagine that you are solving the problem for someone else rather than for yourself. Think about what the solution to the problem will look like 5 years in the future rather than right now. Think about how people 1000 miles away might be conceptualizing the problem. Each of these methods helps to create some distance, and that can help you focus on the more abstract parts of the situation.

After you re-think the problem, though, it is important to focus on the details again. So, once you have an insight that changes the way you think about the problem, focus on it close up again. In that way, you can ensure that the solution you develop will also address the little things that can make the difference between success and failure.

This method still requires plenty of mental backflips, but at least it's a good starting point for exercises you can actually do when you're working through a tough issue. Head over to 99U for a few more ideas.

The Abstraction Method of Problem Solving [99U]


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