Using the Fountain to Problem Solve

My name is Seth and I’m the new guy here at HiringThing. As a kid I loved playing with Legos, taking my toys apart to fix them, and inventing ridiculous machines that nearly burned my house down on more than a few occasions. These types of play all involved puzzles, trouble-shooting, and problem solving. It comes as no surprise that as a Web Developer these are still the aspects of my career that I find the most energizing.

Today I’m going tell you about a writing technique I have adopted for software development known as The Fountain . The concept behind the Fountain is simple: before you can communicate an idea clearly you must first remove the blockage, the mental junk , cluttering your mind. The exercise is simple yet effective.

To begin, simply start typing (or if you’re old-school you may use a pen, hence the name). Write down everything that crosses your mind and do not stop until you find words flowing freely from your fingertips. This will feel ridiculous the first few times you attempt it, but you must begin and not stop. Don’t worry about spelling. Don’t hit backspace. Forget the punctuation and just type. Let the words come and they’ll begin to make sense after a few minutes. Don’t be surprised if you need to practice this routine multiple times before it feels comfortable. It won’t at first and that’s to be expected. There will be time for re-organizing, or in my case deleting , after you’ve committed your thoughts to paper. Obviously this exercise doesn’t do any problem solving for you but it primes the jets allowing you to think more clearly about the problem you are tasked to solve.

In bringing it back to my domain as a Web Developer, I am able to use this technique to put words to the nebulous concepts within a feature request. Often the obstacle to writing good software is not knowing where to begin. Just pondering a problem is not as effective as working through its pieces.

Consider for a moment the preposterous idea of solving a Rubik’s cube without picking it up. Perhaps a few Mensa members out there enjoy such a challenge but I am not one of them. Employing the fountain technique in conjunction with prototyping (a topic I’ll touch on another time) allows me to stop thinking about the vastness of my problem and helps me focus on one aspect at a time. Einstein said “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Being a programmer my productivity isn’t measured in lines of code but in problems solved. For me to break down a complicated problem into smaller pieces means that I have to be able to focus, to hone in, on critical concerns of a particular feature while ignoring the peripheral. The rest of the puzzle will be solved in due time.

So the next time you have difficulty dissecting the pieces of a puzzle give The Fountain a try and let me know how it goes.


Author: HiringThing

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