Always start with the outlines

If I have to sum up my job in two words it would be “solving problems”. Over the years I’ve experimented with different approaches and one has stood the test way better than anything else. In fact I apply this approach to almost every part of my life – always start with the outlines.

The outlines

What are they? You might be familiar with it, but when drawing generally you start by making a very rough sketch of where you want things to be position in your composition – you define the overall structure. Similarly in music you would start with the emotion and mood that you want to describe. Then in the painting you would solidify some of outlines. Next you think of where the light will fall and how the shadows will fall. Only at this point you start focusing on tinier details. With the music you would think of chords maybe and start experimenting with those for a general sequence. Once the base is ready you can add embellishments.

The outlines are “the big picture”, they let you focus on where are the edges of what you have to deal with, what is possible and what is not. Then you arrange those in order of priority and only then you can change the focus to each individual element and add detail.

Problem solving

This approach is critical to solving any type of problem – financial, learning, creative, management, etc. Once you get the problem – “I need to cook something”, you don’t just start smashing things in a bowl and mixing the salt in. The order is:

  1. Understand the restrictions
  2. Analyse the available resources
  3. Define the possible actions to take
  4. Focus on the execution

For the first we need to see if we should cook breakfast, lunch or dinner. Then if it will be meat, fish, vegetarian dish. This starts to narrow down our options. Following is to see what resources we have – maybe if we have certain products that are enough for one dish that will be our choice or you can go buy some stuff for a special meal (possible actions). Finally you need to focus on execution – choose a recipe, get all the intricacies of cooking a dish right.

This process can be applied to any problem, and normally within one problem there are multiple smaller ones to be solved (the process can be applied there too) as we can see in the cooking example.

Summary

When we start from the outlines we reduce the mental pressure on solving a problem or making a decision. This is because the outlines are filters or restrictions that reduce the options available. With less options the solution start to become obvious on its own. What do you think of this process and have you used a different one that works best for you?

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