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25 Aug 2011

Who’s the Better Problem Solver?

Person A has solved a hundred problems while Person B has only solved five. Who’s the better problem solver? The answer is B, but the question is, “Why?”

Initially, people often say that Person B’s problems were tougher. However, I tell them that Person A also solved all of Person B’s problems in A’s hundred problems. Some say that B did a better or faster job. I tell them there was no difference in the solutions. Occasionally, someone gives this answer: B solved the problems on his own while someone taught A how to solve his.

I once told a friend that I thought someone was smart because of an idea she had. He asked me whether she had read it somewhere. I didn’t know the answer, but it eventually led me to create this puzzle about problem-solving capabilities. Yes, there are many correct answers; however, the one I seek is rarely given.

Consider any brainteaser. It’s more impressive if people hadn’t seen it before than if others had already shown them the solution. Yet, in everyday life, we don’t really care because as long as someone can give us good advice, we don’t question whether she learned it from someone else or discovered it on her own.

In fact, we tend to feel more comfortable with those who can show training and education rather than those who arrive at good solutions without them. Yet, it’s the latter group that has the talent to solve novel situations; the former can only learn from experience, theirs or others.

So, next time someone gives you advice, ask him how he derived it. After all, my math teachers always wanted me to see my work, not just the answer.


2 Responses

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, Beth, experience helps. It’s a valuable basis in the trial & error method.

      Still, we should not negate innate qualities. After all, a small handheld sponge soaks up much more water than a human-size boulder. The same holds true with people. Some with much less experience can outdo those with great experience simply because they take in and digest much more from their experiences. Studies are also showing that people with diverse interests tend to have a problem-solving advantage especially when it comes to finding connections and associations among their experiences. So, it matters how diverse those experiences are too.

      Thank you for stopping by, visiting and commenting. I appreciate it. ~Mike

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