To All Problem Solvers
Welcome to all manner of problem solvers, especially to professional problem solvers, inventors, puzzlers, and those who are intellectually titillated by confounding problems. Heuristic innovation is a new methodology for solving problems requiring fresh insights, inspiration, and clever concepts.
There are two kinds of problem solving that we engage in. One is algorithm-type and the other is design-type problem solving. Algorithmic driven problem solving is a “crank turning” exercise that is tedious for humans but ideal for computers. It is not creative. Design-type problem solving is very creative. This applies to engineering design, art, poetry, and mathematics, among many other fields.
Mathematics, for example, requires creative insight when generating new algorithms, when reducing a problem to a mathematical formulation (for solution by crank turning), when cracking a problem with a clever approximation, when testing function behavior, when proving theorems, and in many other ways. Engineering design is a creative process requiring unusual insights to resolve an unwanted effect with an inventive concept. Engineering of a design, on the other hand, is not creative; it is a crank turning process of concept scale-up to a specific application. Engineering scale-up of a concept uses handbook procedures of accepted practice.
The above bit of hyperbole should get every reader’s attention. I use it to make the point that there is something fundamentally different between following the dictates of an algorithm or a recipe in problem solving and in creating a new concept. The former has documented precedence; the latter has no precedence for guidance. Creation of a new concept, invention, or innovation is the greatest intellectual challenge of problem solving.
Our two hemispheres of cognition have their own dominant specialties they bring to problem solving. In algorithmic-type problem solving …
we use words to describe and define,
we figure out things step by step,
we use symbols,
we let a small bit of information represent a whole thing,
we keep track of time, sequencing one thing after another,
we draw conclusions based on reason and facts,
we use numbers as in counting,
we draw conclusions based on sequences of logical steps or conclusions, and
we think in terms of linked ideas, one thought directly following another, often leading to a convergent conclusion
– all are thinking traits of the language-oriented hemisphere.
In design-type problem solving, as exercised by an artist for example,
we use nonverbal cognition to process perceptions,
we put things together to form wholes,
we relate things as they are, at the present moment,
we see likenesses among things; understanding metaphoric relationships,
we have no sense of time,
we do not require a basis of reason or facts,
we have a willingness to suspend judgment,
we see where things are in relation to other things and how parts go together to form a whole,
we make leaps of insight, often based on incomplete patterns, hunches, feelings, or visual images,
we see whole things all at once; perceiving the overall patterns and structures, often leading to divergent conclusions
– all are thinking traits of the image-oriented hemisphere.
These two paragraphs are also exaggeration but perhaps in a little more subtle way. Your cognitive hemispheres probably chafed a bit as you saw the two lists of thinking traits assigned to two different fields while recognizing some of both in your own thinking habits. Nonetheless, I suspect that technologists reading these two lists will identify more with the language-oriented hemisphere list than with the non-linguistic hemisphere list. A tendency of technical-problem solvers and many others to prefer logic is my first premise in support of heuristic innovation. They are, after all, highly trained, practiced, proficient, rational, problem solvers.
My second premise in support of heuristic innovation is that we could be much more creative and inventive in solving design-type problems. We could be if we could easily activate our non-linguistic, image-oriented thinking traits. Unfortunately thinking traits are not tractable. We cannot control them. Thinking involves conscious planning, organizing, and structuring. Simultaneously, the two cognitive hemispheres subconsciously exercise their thinking traits according to their preferences. The final results can be marvels of human imagination. Yet the process remains unknown.
Given this introduction it should be evident that to explain, understand, and test heuristic innovation, as a creative problem solving methodology, will require some introspection. We will be treading a path between the knowable and the unknowable. We will be looking for plausible cause-and-effect associations with known thinking traits – an uncertain process. To complicate matters further, you and I have two different brains with different interests, practices, preferences, procedures, and cognitive-hemisphere influences. Communication will be a challenge.
To address the complexity of introspection required to understand the methodology, I feel obligated to expose my own introspection (as best I can recall it) in demonstrating heuristic concepts. You will recognize these efforts as first person dialog appearing in the text. You should challenge for credibility each assertion they make or imply. Then you should put yourself in the situation being described and see what your own thinking would produce. Of course, I hope we come out on the same track in the end.