2. Diagnose the problem.3. Identify solutions.4. Execute your solution.

(If you’re not an expert,) embrace constraints

When solving CIDNI problems, constraints are those factors that reduce your solution space, such as the money, time, expertise, etc. at your disposal. Too many constraints will reduce your solution space so much that you might not find a satisfactory solution.

But not enough constraints can be crippling too: if you start with a blank page, everything can be a solution and you might fall victim of paralysis by analysis where you’re afraid to move in one direction because it would close doors in other directions.

Embrace constraints as they can be as much enabling than limiting

So there is value in having some constraints. In fact, I’d argue that the less you know what you’re doing, the more beneficial constraints are. Let me explain with an analogy: think of how we learn to draw.

As a kid, my parents bought me some books with shapes in them, and I started by coloring within the shapes. Those shapes were pretty significant constraints, but they were fitting considering my skill level. Sure, I couldn’t draw a dinosaur if the shape was that of monkey, but I got to decide which parts of the monkey should be bright orange.

Then I got those books where there were dots all over the page, each associated with a number. Before drawing, I had to link the dots following the numbers to create the shape. Arguably that was more for me to learn how to count than to draw, but I also got to decide which dots I left out, thereby getting some control on the shape I was creating. And, once I created a shape, I got to color it too. Those were less constraining setups, but still significantly constraining.

A few years later, at Rice, I took a couple of drawing classes with Basilios Poulos. For a specific drawing, Bas would tell us what medium to draw or he would bring a model to the class and that would be our subject for the drawing. Those were still constraints, but, again, we were freer.

You could continue this up until you remove all constraints. Then you’d start with a blank page, as Picasso.

Picasso solving an ill-defined problem

As an expert, Picasso had no problem starting with a blank page, but if you’re not there yet, having constraints might be a good thing

Picasso gets away with it but, well, I guess it’s fair to say he was quite a bit of an expert. For the rest of us, starting with a blank page might just be too difficult.

So constraints will limit your independence, that’s a fact. But that limitation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially if you’re new to the type of problem you’re addressing. And especially if you approach constraints with the right mind set, because they help you transform your ill-defined problem into a well-defined one. So don’t focus on what constraints prevent you from doing. Rather, think about what they enable you to do.

 

 

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