3 min read

methods for producing solutions

methods for producing solutions
  1. ask chatgpt

  2. google it, see if someone else has already solved the problem

    1. if it’s something a research paper might have solved, try asking elicit
  3. set a 5-minute timer, and think about the problem for 5 minutes. don’t think for 1-2 mins then go do the dishes, actually set a timer and actually do nothing else but think for a full 5 minutes.

  4. do the obvious things

    1. “I continue to wonder how powerful a person could become, if they simply managed to do all the obvious things in pursuit of their goals.”
  5. ask the duck

  6. ask people

    1. ask a friend/parent/sibling/etc
    2. don’t have any available? close your eyes, imagine they’re in front of you, ask them, imagine what they would say. seriously!
    3. don’t have any at all? close your eyes, imagine a wise/smart/strategic/good fictional character, imagine they’re in front of you, ask them, imagine what they would say. seriously!
    4. ask multiple friends/parents/siblings/etc
    5. don’t know any fictional characters? ask yourself from 1y ago, 5y ago, etc. ask yourself, out loud.
    6. ask friends/parents/siblings to go through other items on this list, how they would do them
    7. find whomever’s most publicly knowledgeable about the problem, and send them a cold email (unless you already know them).
    8. ask me
  7. post a bounty on manifold and see if someone else can solve your problem

  8. write the problem down, completely.

  9. seriously consider ignoring the problem entirely. how bad would it be to just let the problem be? could you tank them? could you hedge them?

  10. wait until you’re in a totally different mood, then tackle the problem from the exact same angle

  11. it’s 5 minutes/hours/weeks/years/etc from now, and you solved the problem. what happened?

  12. wait

    1. set a 5 minute timer, don’t think about it, then check on it afterwards
    2. set yourself a 24h timer, and don’t think about it for a day. when the timer goes off, see if you’ve come up with any solutions
    3. work out, and check on it afterwards
    4. go to sleep, and check on it afterwards. edit: from Bertrand Russet (pseudonym): "this doesn't [even] have to be overnight. By the end of my undergrad math degree, I was doing problem sets by just taking naps and writing down the answers on waking. Not for all types of problems! But good when it works."
  13. ask reddit

  14. ask twitter

  15. try diagramming out the problem, even if it’s not a visual problem. works best with an actual pen & paper.

  16. stimulants (+ obligatory "use with caution")

    1. caffeine
    2. adderall (can’t personally confirm, friends have though)
    3. others (?)
  17. interface with reality — try some random bullshit and focus on having the results help you generate better solutions.

  18. backchain:

    1. what do you want? what is the desired outcome? what’s the goal, the objective?
    2. work backward from that goal to where you are now. don’t start where you are and work forward.
  19. untested ones — i can’t personally vouch for them, but they seem pretty good/others have said they’re good. if you try them and they work, let me know.

    1. analogize to other fields/communities/subcultures/people/etc
      1. look at the overall shape of your problem. define it in as general a sense as possible, with as little context as necessary. someone who reads this definition shouldn’t be able to tell what field you’re in.
      2. has another field/community/subculture/person/etc already solved that shape of problem?
        1. if so: could you apply parts of that solution to your problem?
        2. if not: SWOP (seems wrong on priors). most problems have already been solved, just in different fields from what you think.
    2. ask yourself “what happen if i had zero constraints?” then, figure out how to make those solutions possible, given your constraints.
  20. go through this list again and try all the things you said “hahaha that won’t work for MY problem.” odds are, you’re wrong.

edit: added these ones later.

  • get someone on fiverr to do it for you
  • babble out all of the questions you have, especially the cruxy ones. after you finish writing the questions, start answering them.

If you have a method for producing solutions that isn’t on this list, suggest it to me.

I try to follow Sam Atis’ rules for good advice: nonobvious, actionable, and based on some true insight. Let me know if I’m ever obvious, not actionable, or based on some false insight. Also, you should consider reversing this advice.

Historical note: when I asked Joey Pendleton if he had anything to add to this list, he said:

You could treat "I need more steps for solving a problem" as itself a problem, and then apply the existing steps to try to generate new ones.