The benefits of articulating a problem

In college when working on math assignments, I often found myself stuck on a concept or problem that required a visit to the math lab. As soon as it was my turn for a tutor, the first question he or she would ask me was, “tell me the problem you’re trying to solve.” I would then proceed to explain the problem and in that process I always found my answer!

I learned a valuable lesson going to the math lab: the act of articulating a problem helps me get unstuck. This is a valuable self-help technique. When I come across a problem, I ask myself, “What is the problem? Why is this a problem?” and proceed to explain that problem to myself. I sometimes write it down but most of the time I’m cycling through the problem in my head, which is how I almost always find my answer.

It also helps to have a trusted friend who you can share your problems with. This is harder than it sounds because you don’t want to be vulnerable, but knowing you can be vulnerable with someone gets you through problem solving faster.

Build a group of trusted friends that you can share your problems with. This takes years of shared experiences but it’s the best way to solve bigger and deeper problems. An example of this is Apple’s industrial design team who have been working together for over 18 years, which is one of the reasons they’ve accomplished amazing things. I have worked essentially with the same people for many years and have seen this work in my own life. Infusing your group with new people also helps bring new perspectives and diversity to solving problems.

This is to say that the process of analyzing and articulating a problem is more important than any other skill in problem solving.