Quotations about   problem-solving

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We cannot learn what causes violence and how we could prevent it as long as we are thinking in the traditional moral and legal terms. The only questions that this way of thinking can ask take the form: “How evil (or heroic) was this particular act of violence, and how much punishment (or reward) does the person who did it deserve?” But even if it were possible to gain the knowledge that would be necessary to answer those questions (which it is not), answers would still not help us in the least to understand what causes violence or how we could prevent it — these are empirical not moral questions.

James Gilligan (b. c. 1936) American psychiatrist and author
Preventing Violence, Introduction (2001)
Added on 9-Aug-22 | Last updated 9-Aug-22
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Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to Heaven.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 1, sc. 1, l. 222-23 [Helena] (1602?)
Added on 20-Jul-22 | Last updated 20-Jul-22
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To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times, what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks but a special heart that listens.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) American writer [Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald]

No actual citation found. Also often attributed (also without citation) to Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Added on 21-Apr-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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… To divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.

[… De diviser chacune des difficultés que j’examinerais, en autant de parcelles qu’il se pourroit, et qu’il seroit requis pour les mieux résoudre.]

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode], Part 2 (1637) [tr. Veitch (1850)]

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

... To divide every One of these difficulties, which I was to examine into as many parcels as could be, and, as was requisite the better to resolve them.
[Newcombe ed. (1649)]

... To divide up each of the difficulties which I examined into as many parts as possible, and as seemed requisite in order that it might be resolved in the best manner possible.
[tr. Haldane & Ross (1911)]

... To divide each problem I examined into as many parts as was feasible, and as was requisite for its better solution.
[tr. Ascombe & Geach (1971)]

... To divide each of the difficulties I examined into as many parts as possible, and as may be required in order to resolve them better.
[tr. Cottingham, Stoothoff (1985)]

Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.

Added on 28-Feb-22 | Last updated 28-Feb-22
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People often ask, “What is the single most important environmental / population problem facing the world today?” A flip answer would be, “The single most important problem is our misguided focus on identifying the single most important problem!”

Jared Diamond
Jared Diamond (b. 1937) American geographer, historian, ornithologist, author
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005)
Added on 18-Jan-22 | Last updated 18-Jan-22
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Women are good listeners, but it’s a waste of time telling your troubles to a man unless there is something specific you want him to do.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 3 (1963)
Added on 18-Nov-21 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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At least there are more forms of escapism than those who bandy that word about are always aware of. An artist, for instance, may escape from the problems of his art — which are hard to solve — into a consideration of the problems of society which he sometimes seems to think require of him only that he complain about them. Even the ordinary citizen is not always guiltless of similar techniques and it is, for example, sometimes easier to head an institute for the study of child guidance than it is to turn one brat into a decent human being.

Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970) American educator, writer, critic, naturalist
“Whom Do We Picket Tonight?” Harper’s (Mar 1950)

Reprinted in If You Don't Mind My Saying (1964).
Added on 28-Oct-21 | Last updated 28-Oct-21
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To solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you.

Eric S. Raymond (b. 1957) American software developer, writer [a.k.a. ESR]
The Cathedral and the Bazaar, ch. 2, Rule 18 (1999)
Added on 14-Jul-20 | Last updated 14-Jul-20
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The dramatic art is particularly satisfying for any writer with a polemical bent; and I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012) American novelist, dramatist, critic
Visit to a Small Planet and Other Television Plays, Preface (1956)
Added on 28-Jan-20 | Last updated 30-Jan-20
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You can judge a leader by the size of the problem he tackles — people nearly always pick a problem their own size, and ignore or leave to others the bigger or smaller ones. The chief executive should be thinking about the long-term changes which will bring growth or decay to different parts of the enterprise, not fussing over day-to-day problems. Other people can cope with the waves, it’s his job to watch the tide.

Jay - watch the tide - wist_info quote

Antony Jay (1930-2016) English writer, broadcaster, director
Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life, ch. 17 (1967)
Added on 15-Feb-16 | Last updated 15-Feb-16
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One lesson the arts teach is that there can be more than one answer to a question and more than one solution to a problem; variability of outcome is okay. […] The arts teach children that their personal signature is important and that answers to questions and solutions to problems need not be identical. There is, in the arts, more than one interpretation to a musical score, more than one way to describe a painting or a sculpture, more than one appropriate form for a dance performance, more than one meaning for a poetic rendering of a person or a situation. In the arts diversity and variability are made central. That is one lesson that education can learn from the arts.

Elliot Eisner (1933-2014) Academic, researcher, professor of art and education
The Arts and the Creation of Mind, ch. 8 (2002)

Variant: "The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution; questions can have more than one answer. If they do anything, the arts embrace diversity of outcome."
Added on 29-Jul-15 | Last updated 29-Jul-15
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Solutions nearly always come from the direction you least expect, which means there’s no point trying to look in that direction because it won’t be coming from there.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
The Salmon of Doubt (2002)
Added on 29-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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If this stone won’t budge at present and is wedged in, move some of the other stones around it first.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) Austrian-English philosopher
Culture and Value, 1940 (1977) [tr. Winch (1980)]
Added on 27-Apr-15 | Last updated 27-Apr-15
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The older I get, the more wisdom I find in the ancient rule of taking first things first — a process which often reduces the most complex human problems to manageable proportions.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
“Let’s Be Honest with Ourselves,” Reader’s Digest (Dec 1963)
Added on 13-Apr-15 | Last updated 13-Apr-15
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To ask the right question is already half the solution of a problem.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychologist
Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious (1934) [tr. Hull (1959)]
Added on 23-Mar-15 | Last updated 23-Mar-15
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In reactive problem solving we walk into the future facing the past — we move away from, rather than toward, something. This often results in unforeseen consequences that are more distasteful than the deficiencies removed.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
The Art of Problem Solving (1978)
Added on 12-Mar-15 | Last updated 12-Mar-15
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If ever you find yourself environed with difficulties and perplexing circumstances out of which you are at a loss how to extricate yourself, do what is right, and be assured that that will extricate you the best out of the worst situations. Though you cannot see when you take one step what will be the next, yet follow truth, justice and plain dealing, and never fear their leading you out of the labyrinth in the easiest manner possible. The knot which you thought a Gordian one will untie itself before you. Nothing is so mistaken as the supposition that a person is to extricate himself from a difficulty by intrigue, by chicanery, by dissimulation, by trimming, by an untruth, by an injustice. This increases the difficulties tenfold; and those who pursue these methods get themselves so involved at length that they can turn no way but their infamy becomes more exposed.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Peter Carr (19 Aug 1785)
Added on 21-Jun-12 | Last updated 24-Jul-22
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It is not always by plugging away at a difficulty and sticking at it that one overcomes it; but, rather, often by working on the one next to it. Certain people and certain things require to be approached on an angle.

André Gide (1869-1951) French author, Nobel laureate
Journal (26 Oct 1924) [tr. O’Brien (1951)]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Dec-14
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Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.

[In tranquillo esse quisque gubernator potest.]

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 358
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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