Professor of medicine. PhD in human factors engineering. Living with type 1 diabetes. Infrequent blogger.

An engineering approach to problem solving

I’ve realized recently that even as my research interests take me further and further away from my engineering background, I remain incredibly grateful for my training. Engineering is essentially all about problem solving, and the approach is just so sensible:

1. Establish what you want to know. Write it down.

2. Figure out what you know. Write it down.

3. Figure out the bits in between that you don’t know, can’t know, or are missing. Make reasonable assumptions about those bits. Write them down.

4. Use the analytical tools (equations, models, software) that you have to put it all together in a sensible and reasonably efficient way.

5. Take a look at your results, and put them in context. Do they make sense? Is this a reasonable answer? If not, cycle back. Re-examine your assumptions. Check your arithmetic. Rethink whether or not those were the correct tools to use.

6. If it makes sense to do so, validate your results with data.

No approach is perfect, of course, but this is just so orderly and lovely, and I think the world would be a better place if we were all to re-examine our assumptions more often and more thoughtfully.

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