Two Georges’ Thinking

I like two Georges’ ways of thinking, so I’ve taken note of them here.


From George Pólya’s method for mathematical problem solving:

1 Understand the problem

  • What is the unknown?
  • What are the data?
  • What is the condition?
  • Can the problem be solved?

2 Assumptions

  • What can you or need you assume?
  • What shouldn’t you assume?
  • Have you made subconscious assumptions?

3 Devising a plan of attack

  • Have you seen this or a related problem before?
  • Have you seen a similar unknown before?
  • Can you restate the problem?
  • If you can’t solve this problem, can you solve a similar or simpler problem?

4 Aftermath

  • Are you sure of the solution? Can you see it at a glance?
  • Did you use all the data? the whole condition?
  • Can you get the same solution another way?
  • Are there other valid solutions?
  • Can you apply the solution or method to another problem?
  • Was this a satisfying problem to solve?

I was lucky to have a different George, George Heilmeier, as my boss’ boss back when I worked at TI’s Artificial Intelligence Lab in the 80s, but I had no idea how famous or important he really was. I just knew he was cool.

From George Heilmeier’s method for solving research challenges:

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?

Curious about how to keep a vision while staying focused on metrics? Me too. Watch a 3-minute video on notes I took while hanging out with Laura Martini.

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