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Tom's Sixth Law: He Who Has the Best Duck Wins

The best way to solve a difficult problem is to talk it through. I for one talk to myself regularly, but problem solving talk-throughs require an independent audience in order to be effective; your listening-self can assume too much and thus your talking-self isn't required to break things down to the same level of detail (which in the end is what really leads to you figuring out the problem). Find a good listener and you can solve anything.

What does this have to do with ducks, you ask? Well, long ago I read a story somewhere about a guy who kept a rubber duck on top of his monitor. (Consider yourself lucky if you don't remember monitors large enough to put things on.) Whenever our fictional hero had difficulty figuring something out, he would explain it (the problem) to the duck. Usually, before the explanation was complete, he had discovered the solution.

Forcing yourself to break a problem down enough to explain it to a toy duck will clarify your understanding of it. Almost always that clarity will lead to a solution.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I love to teach things to people. Organizing my thoughts enough to explain them enhances my understanding of them as well. Everybody wins.

At the last company I worked at, the team I worked with grew so fond of this principle that when someone needed to talk through something they would often just walk up to somebody else, go "quack quack", and start talking. Very confusing to new hires, but very effective.

Bottom line: find yourself a good listener and treat them like gold. They will often be your best problem-solving tool.

Even if they can't talk back.
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Comments
Tom:
This is golden. You are always told to learn to listen. This takes the exact opposite position. To listen, someone has to be talking and in talking the problem should get solved. Makes sense. I sometimes even use the mirror.
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