a template for how to feel confident whenever I need to: do the work
January 16, 2020 2:25 PM   Subscribe

The mathematician Arthur Ogus explained Alexandre Grothendieck’s approach to problem solving by saying, "If you don’t see that what you are working on is almost obvious, then you are not ready to work on that yet." I find this quote comforting because it suggests that good ideas—at least for one famous mathematician—do not come into the mind ex niliho. Rather, good ideas come from so deeply understanding a problem that the solution seems obvious. 2700 words from Gregory Gundersen on the benefits of keeping a research blog.
posted by cgc373 (3 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I am currently working on giving a clinical counselling organisation the tools to feel confident to do research and publish. This is really helpful.
posted by parmanparman at 2:56 PM on January 16

good ideas come from so deeply understanding a problem that the solution seems obvious

...and one of the most effective methods for gaining such an understanding, in my experience, is explaining whatever it is you think you already understand to somebody else.

The human brain is an astonishingly capable general-purpose pattern recognizer, and one of the rather less desirable effects of that is a tendency to recognize patterns that are not really there. And that tendency folds back on itself! It's really common to experience a feeling of deep understanding where in fact understanding is patchy at best.

Explaining whatever it is you understand to somebody else is a way to get past that feeling and notice the holes and gaps and hastily-smooshed-together parts in your own understanding, which is something you absolutely have to do before you can make it better.

There are lots of things I now understand much better due to time spent answering questions about them on AskMe.

This is a good article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by flabdablet at 3:13 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]

This resonates with me, to the point of feeling like a set of truisms. I will be stealing this and using it to motivate my non-academic, small dev/devops/ops team who are constantly presented with novel problems to solve with a static toolkit to document document document - thank you for sharing.
posted by ElGuapo at 8:06 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]

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