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Problem-solving

Yesterday I got a call pointing out a problem with one of our online reports. I looked at the SQL behind the report, and after about a half an hour I was able to see what was causing the problem. However, I had no idea how to fix it. I thought about it off and on last night (more off than on) and on the walk to work this morning, but my mind was basically going around in circles. This morning I discussed the problem with a co-worker, and we got into a frustrating box where we seemed to be talking past each other about the nature of the dataset. Then I started looking at something else completely unrelated (some news about the Boston bombing), and suddenly I thought of a new approach to the problematic SQL.

The idea seemed to come out of nowhere, but it worked when I implemented it. Even after I saw that it apparently worked, I still didn't understand *why* it worked. I discussed it with my co-worker, but we were still not on the same page. I tested the report to see if I could find any problems in the data, but everything seemed to be just fine. I went off to get some more coffee, and as I was wandering around with my coffee I suddenly realized that my solution had to do with the primary key of one of the tables involved in the query. I had been thinking about aspects of the primary key earlier, before I came up with my solution, but it hadn't been in my thoughts at all at the moment that the solution arrived to me.

The point of all this is that it seems to me that the problem-solving was happening on some level other than my conscious thinking. I have no idea where it was happening, and I suppose that's one of the reasons I get such a charge out of the process. It's often a mystery to me how I do it, and therefore it seems miraculous on some level -- a gift from the gods. Where do our ideas come from? It doesn't always seem to be a rational process, or if it *is* rational it's a deep, invisible rationality. Deep logic? It's very strange.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
surliminal
Apr. 16th, 2013 08:48 pm (UTC)
Well if you go back to my post on creativity you'll see this is one the well documented things they noted: distract yourself rather than going on butting your head at problems and a creative solution sometimes arrives just as you say. I don't find it very surprising that creativity isnt a rational process - I have always had my best ideas in the middle of a swim or a bath or in my sleep - is this a man thing?:)
randy_byers
Apr. 16th, 2013 09:31 pm (UTC)
Could be, although I'm not very manly as men go. Hm, is there some kind of measurement of manliness? Wait, did I just connect measurement and manhood?! *sigh*

More seriously, I do think that an important part of the process was discussing the problem with my co-worker, even though the discussion itself was apparently fruitless and frustrating. I think it got me closer to where I needed to be, but the final step was the mysterious one.
kalimac
Apr. 16th, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean about the problem-solving process, even though I don't have much of an idea of what you are talking about. Databases ... that's as far as I get.
randy_byers
Apr. 16th, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC)
Well, I could've gone into far greater detail about the specifics of the problem, but I didn't think it would be any more enlightening for those who don't work with SQL.
kalimac
Apr. 16th, 2013 09:57 pm (UTC)
You're right. I've spent enough time talking with whumpdotcom and other masters of neepery that I know that further explanation does increasingly less good. I don't even know what SQL is.
randy_byers
Apr. 16th, 2013 10:08 pm (UTC)
It stands for Structured Query Language, for what it's worth. My knowledge of SQL is actually quite limited compared to some of the folks I work with, but I suppose I'm slowly learning more almost despite myself.
wrdnrd
Apr. 17th, 2013 05:37 am (UTC)
I'm deeply fascinated -- AND repulsed -- by the way brains can back-burner a problem and then suddenly present a solution out of the blue like that. Fascinated because it's just so NEAT the way brains work. Repulsed because, bloody hell!, do i ever get pissed off when i look away from a problem for awhile and no solution actually presents itself. Then i feel like i've wasted time that i could have used to pick away at the problem until i've worked out a solution the hard way.

Brains!
randy_byers
Apr. 17th, 2013 02:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it can be just as maddening when the black box fails as it is ecstatic when it succeeds. Part of why I felt so jacked about it yesterday was because I had decided I didn't know how to analyze the problem so I was going to have to hand it off to someone else. Then ding-ding-ding! Surprise!
voidampersand
Apr. 17th, 2013 07:27 am (UTC)
The conscious mind thinks it is the whole brain.
randy_byers
Apr. 17th, 2013 02:41 pm (UTC)
You'd think the conscious mind would eventually figure out that it was wrong, but nooooooo.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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