If we wish to emulate the success we observe then we need to find some strategies for becoming really adept at problem solving and do so quickly. This post aims to do just that. I am describing 2 simple techniques that you can start to use straight away. These are borrowed from the writing of Josh Waitzken, the child chess prodigy, author of 'The art of learning' and now performance coach to life's top 0.01%.
The first can be illustrated by a quote from Billy Kid, a champion downhill skier from the 60's. When asked what the 3 most important turns of a ski run were he answered 'the last 3 you do before getting on the lift'. What he is saying here is that you need to finish your practice with quality if you expect to perform with quality. In his example, when you are sitting on the lift you are internalising what has come before you, it is therefore crucial to ensure it is quality otherwise you're encoding sloppy habits. Transferring this into day to day life it is important that you finish your work on the high performance tasks. Finish with the difficult questions, these are then the skills that will be internalised whilst you are 'off task'.
The second takes this principle further and is described by Waitzken as 'committing the problem to your subconscious'. The theory being that our most adept problem solving hardware lives in our subconscious. We all can recall moments of inspiration we have had when in the shower thinking of something else entirely. This happens because, unbeknownst to you, the problem has been stewing away behind the scenes and you've been working it for answers without even realising. When a solution is discovered, up it pops. Thankfully we can take this quirk of our psyche and turn it into a deliberate practice. Next time you have a tough problem finish your working day by stewing on it consciously, jot down ideas, work the issue around your head. Then break away and change state, go and exercise or another activity that stimulates you physically or uses a different part of your brain. Then you sleep on it. When you wake up start the day by taking a pad and pen and journaling on the problem. You will be amazed at the insight you seem to have gained.
Ultimately problem solving is a skill, therefore the more you commit to these practices the stronger your problem solving muscles will become. If you want to become a world class problem solver finish your days with the big questions, sleep on them and start your days discovering the answers.