Monday, June 7, 2010

Adam Savage, "Problem Solving: How I Do It"

I haven't posted anything about Maker Faire 2010 because I've been wanting to highlight some individual experiences from it instead of a large summary post. I've especially been waiting for them to post the video from Adam Savage's talk on Saturday afternoon.

Adam Savage

Adam's topic was "Problem Solving: How I Do It." The questions that he asks prior to embarking on a problem are:
  1. What is the problem I'm solving? (Am I solving the right problem?)
  2. What is the big picture? (Where is the problem that I am currently solving fit into a larger context?)
  3. How much time do I have?
  4. How precise to I have to be?
  5. What is my rhythm and how does it fit with this project?
  6. What are my resources?
  7. Does the place in which I'm solving this problem help or hinder the process?
  8. How many people do I have? (Is the team big enough? Is it too big?)
  9. Do I have all the skills necessary?
  10. Do I have a realistic understanding of what my skill level is for the problem that I'm about to solve?
  11. If I'm not good enough at something, is there enough time for me to get good, or do I have to contract it out?
Once the project has already started, he talked about asking iteratively the following questions:
  1. How important is this particular step?
  2. How important is it that I get this step right?
  3. Is my machine deteriorating?
  4. Is this a step I might be able to improve later?
  5. Am I missing something stupid? (Am I being too clever? Is there a simpler way?)
  6. Am I sure that how what I'm doing fits into the larger picture?
  7. What does the whole picture look like now that I've solved this part?
Whit was really excited about Adam talking about the breakdown of his problem-solving process (since that's what he studied). Although I tend to use some of the same steps when doing the project management part of my job, I was more excited about the following: crew knows intimately that I hate to look for things, so before I start a project, I go everywhere in the shop and I get every tool that I need and put it on the table. And I get every material that I need, and I put it on the table. And I get everything lined up so that I don't have to move once I'm in the sluice; once I'm rolling, I wanna keep on rolling...
...which is essentially mise en place for engineers. I'm glad to know that there's an overlap.

Adam spoke for about 25 minutes, and then took questions for another 25 minutes; the latter part is where he really shone. I loved that he took a ton of questions from the kids in the audience.

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