Dig into the Fundamentals

24.10.2017 |

Episode #5 of the course Problem solving by Nat Greene


Intrepid problem solvers,

Yesterday we talked about making sure you had a really great definition for the problem you are trying to solve. Today we are going to talk about how to really dig deep to understand what is going on behind your problem.

When a system isn’t working right, someone has to understand how it is meant to work, at the right depth, in order to fix it. Your job as a problem solver is to dig deep enough into the fundamentals of the specific parts of the system that affect the problem so you can solve it in a methodical, disciplined way.


The Essence of Digging into the Fundamentals

Every system or process in the world operates by some fundamental first principles. Unless the system or process is truly beyond the frontier of mankind’s scientific knowledge, you can use your understanding of these principles to understand what is driving your problem. These first principles—which we can call “fundamentals”—are scientific forces, logic, or design principles.

When you dig into the fundamentals, you are understanding how these principles directly affect your problem. You don’t have to understand how the entire system or process works—that is almost impossible. You are trying to understand the part of the system that relates directly to your problem.

Approaching the problem in this way is critical if you are going to avoid guessing. Rather than guessing at possible causes or listing out “factors,” you are learning how the system controls the problem at a fundamental level.


Understanding What Controls the Problem Variable

A great way to frame your digging is understanding what controls the problem variable directly. Recall this problem variable from yesterday’s lesson, “Know What Problem You’re Solving”: it is the variable that tells you whether or not you have a problem. Understand the system from the perspective of that variable and you will be able to find the variables (measurable principles) that will determine the value of that problem variable. Doing so means you are understanding the fundamental first principles behind the problem.


How to Dig Well

To develop this understanding of the fundamentals, the best thing you can do is look at what is going on. Observe the system as the problem is occurring to understand what it is about the immediate system that causes your problem variable to have a certain value. Build a model of the system where there is a problem in order to simplify what you’re seeing. You might be learning about scientific or engineering principles or understanding the design documents for the process.

To dig into the fundamentals, you will need to learn both the specifics of that system and some of the science behind it. Sometimes you will need to break out the manual or textbook or go get support from someone who knows more about whatever you are working on.

To get started, go get in there: take off the panel or the lid and look inside. Pull out the design documents. From simple systems to highly-complex ones, digging into them will prove invaluable. Tomorrow we will learn how to properly work with experts as you solve your hard problem.



Recommended video

Dig Into the Fundamentals


Recommended book

The Fifteen Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp, where you will learn how to (among other amazing things) take full responsibility for being the resolution to your problem.


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