Are Your Lights on?


Donald C. Gause, Gerald M. Weinberg


  • Problem: nobody reads prefaces
  • Solution: Call the preface Chapter 1.
  • New problem created by solution: Chapter 1 is boring
  • Resolution: call it Chapter 2

What is a problem?

  • A problem is a difference between things as desired and things as perceived
  • Phantom problems are real problems

Problem definition

  • Don’t take their solution method for a problem definition
  • If you solve their problem too readily, they’ll never believe you’ve solved their real problem


  • Don’t leap to conclusions, but don’t ignore your first impression
  • Each solution is the source of the next problem

Tricky part

  • Trickiest part of certain problems is just recognizing they exist
  • If you can’t think of at least three things that might be wrong with your understanding of the problem, you don’t understand the problem


  • Test your problem on others
  • Each new point of view will produce a misfit

Problem statement

  • Once you have a problem statement in words, play with the words until the statement is in everyone’s head

Other people’s problems

  • Don’t solve other people’s problems when they can solve them perfectly well themselves
  • If it’s their problem, make it their problem

Force the solution

  • If a person is in a position to do something about a problem, but doesn’t have the problem, then do something so they do have the problem


  • Try blaming yourself every once in awhile - even for a moment

No need for complicated solutions

  • Even if it’s their problem, you can assist them
  • If people really have their lights on, a little reminder may be more effective than your complicated solution

Monkey’s paw

  • We never have enough time to do it right, but we always have enough time to do it over
  • We never have enough time to consider whether we want it, but we always have enough time to regret it


  • The fish is always the last to see the water
  • Don’t rush in with a solution before the problem is defined

Questions to ask

  • What is the problem?
  • Whose problem is it?
  • Where does the problem come from?
  • Do we really want to solve the problem?