When Solving Problems, do you Start from Solution or Resources?

When I was attending a meeting at work, I noticed something interesting. It was mostly interesting to see, how people get at the problems from the different perspective.

Let me give a bit of the background first. The product, that I work on, helps with optimizing SaaS. So my team's job is to get as much useful data as possible from as many SaaS services as possible. And here there is always a tension between what we can get and what data would be the most useful for decision making. There is also a tension between going through the official API, which has a lot of time more limited data, but generally works for everybody that connects it. Or by logging to their account and scrape their data, with all the problems scraping entails.

Now, how I usually attempt to do it, is that I first see what data can we even get. Only after seeing this, would I even start thinking about usefulness of the data. So my job is then optimization of the value from the data, that is available.

But we now have a new teammate (?) on the team. So he collected us, in order to explain to us the new way of the optimization, that would greatly help the customers. It was something to do, how to optimize the bundles of different products. Fine. Except, we on the end figured out, that we do not have this data for a lot of cases, where this would be useful. This was even true for one of the case, that he gave us as example (JetBrains). He looked down, when he realized, that we could not do this for some of the products bundles, that are quite widespread in the companies - like Adobe.

This is something, that I have been thinking about, even since I read the Software Crisis. There was an interesting quote, that lead me to research more about it. The quote is below.

It's about finding something you're are likely to accomplish with your current resources. As opposed to attempting to do something and then finding out whether you can accomplish it or not.

What they were talking about is two different types of problems solving.

  1. Casual: How can we implement this specific solution to this specific problem
  2. Effectual: What problems can we solve with the skills and resources we have at hand

So the difference is whenever the goal or resources take the central stage. In the upper example, I would be a case for effectual problem solving, while my coworker would be a better example of the casual problem solver.

In my life, I think I see the examples of the effectual problems solving a lot more frequently then the casual problem solving. I am much more likely to cook with whatever I have available, then think about, what I want to eat. Even the job that I currently have, I applied because one of the people working there told me to apply. My public speaking is also just seeing the option and trying it. Since applying for a speech at the technical conference only costs me a bit of time.

Tough be taking the two master courses was a way to get into the cognitive science was a display of casual problem solving.

There are a couple of things, that are more in line with effectual reasoning, then with casual reasoning:

  • just do something and see results
  • what is the worst that can happen -> just do it, if it has small downside
  • search for win-win situations with other people

In the programming world, I think the specific thinking can also be seen with the following quote from the Software Crisis:

Don't be afraid to not make software.

There are hypothesis, that what makes the entrepreneurs entrepreneurial is the effectual reasoning. Which is why the smaller companies can be better in this then the bigger ones. Both because they do not have as many resources and can be more flexible.

I actually think that personality wise there is a difference between the casual and effectual reasoning.

From the Big Five model, it is my hypothesis that effectual reasoning is more connected with high openness. Openness deal with how far reaching connections the mind can make between different concepts. It is also connected with creativity. And seems to be the closes to what is needed to problem solve in this way.

The casual reasoning is connected with high conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is connected with both consistency in the processes and with how much work people are willing to put in to achieve their goals. Having goals from the start might be also connected extroversion, but what is done with them is, in my opinion, connected with conscientiousness.

From the Jung's functions perspective, the effective reasoning seems to be more connected with the extroverted perceiving functions. Extroverted sensing deal with what is right now in front of me and using it. Extroverted intuition is connected with creating connections with what is present in the reality. Both of them start with the reality.

The casual reasoning seems to be more connected with introverted perceiving functions. Introverted intuition always start with one right answer or goal and with the one right path to it. The introverted sensing deal with the correct processes, based on the historical experiences. Both are much more focused on the right way to do things, then with what is available at the moment.

Personality-wise, it seems like I might prefer the effectual reasoning, because it is closer to me. Something to keep in mind when I work with people with different preferences.