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Book Review: “Are Your Lights On?”

January 10, 2013

Are Your Lights On – by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg

Started reading this book since it was recommended by DHH, the creator of Ruby on Rails in a recent blog post. The book is divided into 6 parts. Each of the sections provide a situation that illustrate particular bold lettered concepts. I’ll provide them in their respective sections below. Cool thing: No preface. Why? Cause nobody reads them, so call them Chapter 1, then nobody reads Chapter 1 cause it’s boring, and so on. 🙂

Part 1: What is the problem?

A problem is a difference between things as desired and things as perceived. So a problem can be approached by altering perspective or altering desire.

Part 2: What is THE problem?

Don’t take a solution method for a problem definition. Too often we see problems in the context of solutions that we already know. Interestingly, if you solve a problem too readily, people will never believe you solved the real problem. Don’t mistake a solution method for a problem definition – especially if it’s your own solution method. You can never be sure you have a correct definition, even after the problem is solved. Don’t leap to conclusions, but don’t ignore your first impressions. You can never be sure you have a correct definition, but don’t ever stop trying to get one.

Part 3: What is the problem really?

Each solution is the source of the next problem. If you can’t think of at least 3 things that might be wrong with your understanding of the problem, you don’t understand the problem. Once you have the problem statement in words, play with the words until the statement is in everyone’s head.

Part 4: Whose problem is it?

Don’t solve other people’s problems when they can solve them perfectly well themselves. If it’s their problem, make it their problem. If a person is in a position to do something about a problem, but doesn’t have the problem, then do something so he does. Try blaming yourself for a change – even for a moment. If people really have their “lights on” a little reminder may be more effective than your complicated solution.

Part 5: Where does it come from?

In the valley of problem solvers, the problem creator is king.

Part 6: Do we really want to solve it?

Do unto others as others have done unto you. – referring to spoiling problem solver’s fun. In spite of appearances, people seldom know what they want until you give them what they asked for. We never have enough time to do it right, but we always have enough time to do it over or regret it. Finally, the fish is always the last to see the water.

The greatest points I takeaway from this book is that there are many ways that you should analyze a problem. The typical way I solve problems has been by applying past solutions to similar problem as quickly as possible (the university student way), rather than thinking about them from multiple perspectives, and questioning the assumptions I implicitly have about those problems.

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