For a while now I've been collecting fieldstones on the topic of heuristics for working. Some of these are things that I've said to others, some of them are things that I've thought about when considering some aspect of myself or how I work, and others have come from books I've read, talks I've attended, and workshops I've participated in.
I've made a handful of rough categorisations and I'll put each set in a post under the tag Heuristics for Working.
But what do even I mean by heuristics for working? Good question. I mean rules of thumb for situations that arise in the workplace. They are bits of advice that can be useful to consider but don't offer any guarantees and will not always apply.
The collection is surely idiosyncratic, context-sensitive and perhaps too specific and too general in turn. Welcome to my head. I haven't sat down and tried to elaborate or enumerate more, or to try to fill the gaps. Everything here has arisen and been noted in the moment, although a good chunk of it is stuff that I've thought about in the past too.
Of course, having heuristics doesn't mean that I remember to use them, or pick a reasonable one when I do remember, or make a good choice when I have remembered and picked a reasonable one. That's part of the rich tapestry, isn't it? At least externalising them and listing them gives me an opportunity to try to understand and maybe change the way I work, the way I am biased, or the way I want to be.
Along the way, I got to wondering if there's one overriding heuristic, one heuristic to rule them all, a meta heuristic. If there was, I think it might run along these lines:
Question your heuristics.I hope there's something interesting and perhaps even helpful here for you.
--00--If you're short of ideas, make a change that you haven't made before and observe the outcome.
If you're short of ideas, ask someone.
If you're short of ideas, stop and summarise.
Externalise the summary to yourself, or someone else.
Ideas spawn ideas.
Give yourself choices.
Use the rule of three.
Make a list; as a creative thinking tool as well as an information store.
State the mission before you start, even if only to yourself.
If you have no mission, make the mission be "find the mission".
Look for related concepts.
Look for connections.
Think about your experiments in terms of comparisons.
What comparisons can you make to start you off if you're stuck, or to help you narrow down if you're diagnosing?
What comparisons make sense now? Why?
What's the smallest difference you can expose that you think might be significant?
Ask: what would make this wrong? How can that be discovered?
Remember not to simply confirm; look for an inverse or negative case.
Look for a non-side-effected case. (What could the side-effects be if this was the case?)
Get as close to the cause as possible.
Disprefer second-hand evidence.
Time-box, and then step back.
Time-box, and then dive in.
Time-box, and then do something else for a while.
Remember to consider both depth and breadth.
Ask whether now might be a time to go lateral.
Ask whether now might be a time to seek help.
Ask whether now might be a time to break the task down.
Ask whether now might be a time to pull in some other factors.
You can explore without having an expectation about the result.
Identify the variables.
Try to model the variables.
Frame experiments in which you deliberately hold nominated variables constant while varying others.
Vary fewer variables for more precise experiments. Vary more variables for big-picture data.
Ask how the variables can vary.
If they cannot vary, they are not variables or you don't understand them yet.
Ask how the variables are related.
What is this analogous to? Have I done something similar to this before? Can I reuse some or all of that?
Look for places to collect evidence from.
And set them up collecting evidence before you start experimenting.
Look for ways to harvest the pieces of evidence you know you are after efficiently.
But harvest other stuff that you don't yet know is useful too.
Find ways to be alerted when an interesting event has happened or, better, is happening.
Start in different ways: verbal, visual, mathematical.
Start in different ways: feelings, logic, random.
Start in different ways: the end, the middle, meta.