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Finding a high-signal, low-noise source of problems to think about

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Aug 16, 2021
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While trying to come up with one new idea per day for a year I realize that finding interesting problems to think about is the most difficult part.

Going for original ideas I often end up thinking of something that has already been done. I then try to come up with significant improvements (innovation) of already existing solutions. If there's nothing new I can contribute the only remaining option is to switch fields and go for a different problem.

Serendipitous discovery of interesting problems

How would one find a steady stream of diverse, interesting problems? I have a few, but they are mostly high noise-to-signal ratio. It takes time to run into an odd good problem in the sea of repeating ones. The effort that gets put in the search and extraction seems to eat away at the mental energy that would be better used for problem-solving. I often get tired and have to take a break without finding a worthy problem.

High noise-to-signal sources

There is a thin line between the benefits of content consumption and wasting time. Especially when the content source was not designed to let you go once you've had enough.

Pretty much any online platform is designed to capture you in the attention vortex and keep you consuming/creating content there. It doesn't take long before you run into random interesting material that has nothing to do with your goals. Chasing interesting tangents exhausts your mental resources and prevents you from working on your ideas.

Ideally, there would be an ever-updating list of well-defined problems, summarized into one sentence each. You would browse them like a catalog until you find something that you want to work on. From there, the interesting problems would be loaded into such a though process:


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Creative contributions

List view of the brainstorming sessions

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Aug 16, 2021
The best problem-finding tool I have found to date is the list view of brainstorming session on this platform:


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Quora questions

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Aug 16, 2021
On Quora, you can often tell what problem someone is having just by looking at their question. The downsides of using Quora as a source of problems
  • Quora recommendation algorithm serves you questions based on what it "thinks" is interesting to you. This means the questions tend to be repeating and revolving around the same areas of interest you previously reacted to.
  • Just like any social media platform, Quora is designed to capture you in the attention vortex and keep you consuming/creating content there. Soon enough you run into random content you want to consume that otherwise has nothing to do with what you set out to accomplish. This exhausts your mental resources and prevents you from working on your ideas.
I have yet to find a way to filter Quora questions in a way that bypasses the above two points.
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Using Twiter's advanced search function to extract worthy problems

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Aug 16, 2021
Twitter has a pretty advanced search function. I have yet to come up with a good filter that outputs tweets that are diverse in nature but contain an identifiable problem.

There are some ideator accounts that are known for posting original ideas. But even those often stray into entertainment, motivation, and agenda promotion. Examples:
  • bored Elon
  • Ideasdrop
  • me
  • who else comes to mind?
Let's try to come up with some Twitter search filters that output diverse problem/idea containing tweets. Here are a few copy/paste strings that return mediocre results (still high noise to signal ratio) but some useful stuff in there:
  • "solve the problem of" (would OR could OR should OR we OR how OR help OR let's) min_faves:3
  • "solution to" min_faves:3
  • this idea (great OR brilliant OR love OR wow OR genius) min_faves:3
  • this solution (great OR brilliant OR love OR wow OR genius) min_faves:3
  • "how can we solve" min_faves:3
  • "is there a way to" min_faves:3
  • "a challenge to" min_faves:3
  • "interesting problem"

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Study existing solutions and their occasional lapses

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Samuel Bello
Samuel Bello Sep 10, 2021
How to come up with new problems
Generating problems is easy. You just need to find a way to improve everything you come across. If you try to make things better, faster, cheaper, or clearer. I think the most abundant sources of problems are existing solutions. People who have the most difficulty in coming up with new ideas are the ones who respect existing solutions too much. Another advantage of studying existing solutions is that one's mind is familiarized with other people's problem-solving techniques.


High noise low signal sources
I believe the internet and life, in general, give information in a high noise low signal way. Sifting through the noise is a major part of logical thinking and information processing. It is more important to master thinking processes that quickly differentiate the noise from signal than to have access to a platform that performs the same function.


I also believe that moderate noise levels in the information a person takes in can help to improve one's creativity. The reason for this belief is that almost everything a person knows seems to be noise (when solving a problem) and is perceived to be irrelevant to the problem at hand until a logical connection is made. The ideator's mind should be able to comfortably fiddle with the 'noise' part of information since they frequently give hints about past and future problems.
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List of ideas on this platform

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Aug 16, 2021
Every idea solves a problem. It takes little effort to identify a problem in a well-defined idea. So browsing through ideas on this platform is a fairly good source of worthy problems. You can then come up with different ways of solving them.
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People feeding their problems in through a dedicated platform

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Povilas S
Povilas S Aug 16, 2021
Differently from quora, this could be a platform dedicated more to inspire ideators rather than help people solve their problems. I mean it would be both, but the ideators would get a constant feed of problems that are truly relevant to someone on the "other side" of the platform.

The people who feed in their problems would have a chance for their problem to get picked up by some top ideator and solved for free. For them it might be worth trying - simply describing your problem (anonymously if preferred) doesn't take much effort. You could feed in any type of problem, from the most stupid and mundane ones to the most complex and unique ones.

AI could help filter the repeating ones and pick the unique ones for the ideators. The ideators on the platform could be divided into groups of different expertise levels - the same would be done with the problems that people feed in, the top ideators would get the most unique problems whether those starting from the very beginning would get the average, repetitive ones to warm up with. The better you got at solving the problems the more unique problems you'd see, this would motivate the ideators to raise their expertise level.

Such a platform could have a marketing motto: "Do you have a truly unique problem? Share it and get our top ideators solve it for you for free".
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic9 months ago
A brainstorming session in the sense that we know it here on the Brainstorming platform is actually just that. Someone defines a problem and everyone starts working on solving it.

Great idea about levels by uniqueness. However what would be the rationale behind excluding someone from being able to work on a unique problem just because their account is new? Maybe showing the unique problems to higher-level ideators first, and only later also include the new users?
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Povilas S
Povilas S9 months ago
Darko Savic I imagined this a bit differently. More like a constant feed of problems in an app that the ideators see and browse through. Also filtered and personalized by the algorithm to an extent.

Here each session is more like an article to read and contribute to (the cover image, the structure, etc.), I imagine the feed of the envisioned platform more like many lines of text (titles) and described more in quora way when you single one out and click on it to get the details (if it's even necessary, maybe the title itself is enough). It wouldn't be so much about solving the problem by collective effort, but about inspiring individual ideators. If some ideator got really hooked up on a specific problem, they would think the solution well through and post the answer once it felt finished.

Not showing the most unique problems to the newbies would be part of the gamification, if you were good at solving problems, you'd quickly get passed through the average ones. And because it wouldn't be so much about helping the people with problems, eliminating the possibility for newcomers to solve the most unique ones wouldn't be a big deal. Since the platform would be oriented mainly towards inspiring ideators, the gamification of stepping up the ladder would also serve the same purpose.


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Darko Savic
Darko Savic9 months ago
Povilas S I forgot to say that this is planned for the updated version of the platform.

In the new version, people wouldn’t be able to start a brainstorming session. They would only be able to post a problem. The problems would have to be well defined or the moderators would put them on hold until the creator fixes the definition.

A “brainstorming session” would then be a page that lists all the solutions under a specific problem.

You would be able to browse the platform by problems or by solutions. You could zoom into the problem to find multiple solutions. You could also zoom into a solution to find which problems it is solving (could be multiple).
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AI-generated lists of problems that people often write about

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Aug 17, 2021
Inspired by this tweet - why don't we tap into GPT3 AI-powered language prediction model?

Is GPT3 still getting new data from people worldwide? I imagine that any system such as Wordtune or Grammarly tap into GPT3 via their API and constantly feed it new data live, as people type it in. This would be the equivalent of having keyloggers installed on many systems worldwide and feeding everything into GPT3.

It would be amazing if we could get a constant stream of concisely described problems, summarized into one line each. Reading such lists of problems would prime ideators and get them going.

Update: this seems to work:)

Using AI21 studio's Jurasic-1 language model, I primed the AI with a few examples, then it continued to produce a list of random problems. One of the suggestions inspired this idea.

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Extracting worthy problems from popular quotes

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 25, 2021
Every quote is targeting a problem. Each was once worthy of a thinker's time, so chances are it's a good problem to work on. Since the quote became popular there might have been new scientific or technological developments that now make it solvable in a new, more efficient way.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni7 months ago
I like the idea, but I am not sure how to go about it. Would you demonstrate using an example?
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni here's what I'm noticing:
Consuming content is easy, actively thinking is hard. In a way, consuming is equal to sitting, while thinking is equal to running.
Consuming quotes in succession eases your mind into transitioning from passive consumption to active creativity. This is because you have to decode every quote to a) understand what it means, b) identify the root of the problem it is targeting.
By the time you get through 20-30 quotes you are warmed up, and then you eventually run into a problem that appeals to you. That's the one you try to solve.
Example:
"The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read." - Mark Twain
I take this as: If you don't work hard, good things will not come to you lightly.
I then think about the root of the problem: Work is unpleasant but necessary. Once you get warmed up and start seeing some progress (or flow) it gets easier. Like a flywheel - once you get it going, it has momentum that makes it easier to maintain the action.
I then think about the goal: How do we make it easy for anyone to transition from being passive to active without noticing that they are going for a transition? Universally this is achieved through playing games.
If it's achieved through a game, how do we then nudge people that are warmed up to use their momentum on being productive in an area that they should be working on?
We now have the necessary components to pick a real audience and incorporate these components into their actual environment.
Let's pick a niche audience of ideators that are trying to keep a streak of ideas going. The idea is to create a warmup game:
  1. You can't have breakfast until you come up with a useful idea that has never been done before
  2. Receive a list of 10 quotes and a blank notepad.
  3. Remove all distractions
  4. Dig into any of the quotes (or a combination of them) to create a way of helping a specific group of people in some way
  5. Write it up and enjoy your breakfast
The goal is to get breakfast (keeping your mind on the prize - dopamine). Reading quotes is easy (no resistance to overcome in the beginning). For an ideator, extracting useful stuff from the quotes is fun. The fun masks the effort. Before they know it, people find themselves being actively creative.
The above is Mark Twain's quote converted into a solution.
Now that I'm warmed up...
Example 2:
"To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with." - Mark Twain
This makes the most sense to people that have reached the "self-transcendence" stage by Maslow's theory of human motivation.
Goal: Make it easy for people to derive maximum joy from sharing with others.
How to get there: Create a universal formula that takes as input individual people's preferences, expertise, current interests, desires, etc. The formula should make it easy for people to figure out what, how, and with whom to share to derive the maximum joy out of the endeavor. Start by identifying the principles behind the happiness of high-profile altruists.
Idea: in progress:)
Example 3:
"Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured" - Mark Twain
Goal: Come up with an instant anger quencher. Something that is easy to keep with you at all times and instantly turns off the anger.
Maybe an asthma-like inhaler with a very short-acting tranquilizer.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni7 months ago
Darko Savic I get it :) Thank you for dissecting the whole process.
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General comments

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic5 months ago
Delivery of high-signal, low-noise problems to think about via an app described in this idea. I would pay for a service like this. I'm not sure how many other customers would be interested. It doesn't seem like a problem encountered by many people. It could be marketed as a training regimen for problem-solving.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic5 months ago
Weightlifting does for bodybuilding what brainstorming does for creativity. Lifting weights increases your muscle mass, brainstorming improves your problem-solving skills. It’s an exercise tailored to a specific type of cells.
Convince your brain that your daily survival depends on solving problems and see it gradually transform itself into a problem-solving supercomputer:)
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic7 months ago
I'm currently on my 113th day of one idea per day for a year. I'm noticing that it's getting slightly easier. I keep a list of a few worthy challenges that I came up with based on any of the methods listed on this page. I think about them before falling asleep or when I try to come up with an idea.
If I have a good challenge/problem and if I think about it as soon as I regain consciousness while waking up, the solutions usually come to me instantly.
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