Something I've been pondering; How does one improve one's out of box thinking and problem solving skills? We refer to them as skills, but how does one practice?

@feoh i actually wonder if improv would not be good. It requires quickly reacting to novel situations in ways you think of on the spot. That seems like the same area of the brain.

@johnstorey That's an excellent idea! I'll look into improv courses!

@feoh There is a card game I heard on a podcast recently that should do the same thing. Everyone draws 3 cards that describe their combatant, then they discuss who would win based on the cards. So one was 'floating baby head able to summon a marching band' vs. 'genghis khan in a paper tank' vs. 'a french muskateer, invisible, who is able to match the size of it's opponent'. It required significant out of the box thinking.

@feoh I think solving problems with other creative people helps a lot. It shows you how to think differently about the same problem.

@byron That's an event l excellent idea as well. How would one do that in a focused, deliberate way? Hackathon maybe?

@feoh I think that's why hackathons can be so great. Even just co-working time/spaces can be good. And getting involved in projects with smart people.

Also getting experience in a different domain can help show new ways of solving similar problems. Spolsky commended MS for forcing devs to change teams when they got too good at their current job, for similar reasons.

@feoh Also sometimes I think asking someone from a different field or specialty how they'd solve a problem you're working on, can occasionally yield interesting results.

As said, improv helps. I also have a book I just started called Lateral Thinking that aims for the goal you seek, so maybe look for it. It's a bit old though.


We train these 'muscles' in my work by playing games based on the fundamental principles behind what we are trying to learn.

Maybe something similar for your pursuits?

@feoh One thing I've found helps me is brainstorming: I take a notepad, write the problem I've got to solve at the top, and below it write quick summaries of solutions.

I write down any solution that comes to mind that might solve the problem, even if it's not feasible (e.g. "cancel the customer", or "delete it all"). Inevitably, one or two new ideas will pop out, and I'll pursue those :)


There's a book called "Lateral Thinking" by Edward de Bono which would be a good starting place.

Games like Connect Four and other spacial relations games are good.

I also think "wordies" are good for verbal thinking along with seeking out puns.

Humor is seeing things from an alternate perspective.

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