You spend countless hours learning new technologies and methodologies to level up and stay current. You read, take online courses, and go to conferences. You are actively bettering yourself. Hum, what steps are you taking to improve your problem-solving skills? You are a problem solver. It doesn’t matter if you are a designer, developer, business leader, and support champion. Your job is to solve problems. Do you spend time leveling up your critical thinking and analytical skills? I have a fun way to amplify those skills: playing games.
Problem-solving is the process of identifying the problem and then creating solutions. Think about that. Your client needs a new website. Okay, what s/he is really saying to you is: “I need to create an online presence that sucks the market in and converts them into buying customers.” The website is part of that strategy. Your job is to create that market demand and magnetic pull that causes viewers to stay, explore, and buy.
Analytical, abstract, and critical thinking are part of problem-solving. Hum, excuse me, but that’s a problem-solving process.
Every day you are analyzing needs, considering different alternatives, and thinking through how to accomplish something. You explore paths and outcomes. Again, this is part of the problem-solving process. The effectiveness of this process is determined by your ability to analyze, assess, and think in the abstract. These attributes are part of your critical thinking.
You might be taking a course on SVG, canvas, React, or OOP right now. You are flexing your technological noodle. The ability to put those new skills into action requires you to excel as a problem solver. It takes mental muscle and prowess. Right?
You have to think about and factor when to apply x over z. You have to consider the why of doing b. You need to know the impact of r. Just like you train yourself in new techniques for your profession, you have to continuously train and exercise your thinking processes.
How are you developing these skills? Do you have problem-solving built into your roadmap?
I have a solution for you. Let’s play games to build cognitive, analytical, and abstract thinking skills. Let’s gain valuable logical thought processes and have fun doing it.
Case Study – Me
I like using case studies and stories to emphasize a concept in practice. Today, I’ll be your lab subject. I make a good case study because I’ve used games my entire life just for this purpose. It all started when I was a toddler. Cognitive exercising is a habit for me. Let me share my story.
The Early Years – Developing Creativity and Critical Thinking
When I was a kid, my mother took an active role in my education. She spent hours with little me, sitting on the floor in my bedroom, working on math, reading, and writing. I had this bear that taught kids how to tie shoes and do buttons, snaps, and zippers. I vividly remember working on those skills with her.
Flashcard sessions were one of my favorites. These sessions were not just your typical “2 + 4” flashcards, although we did that too. Oh no. My mother was creative. She wanted to challenge me and make me think. She wanted the best for me, as she never had the opportunity.
Born in a poverty-stricken coal mining town in the mountains of West Virginia, running water in the house was a luxury which she did not have. She had me very young and dropped out of high school to become my mother. She was brilliant, highly creative, driven, and eccentric. My mother was only fifteen years older than me. Together, it was our game to challenge one another. Together we learned and grew.
Listen up. Your thinking needs training and exercise too.
Our flashcards included logic questions. Little Tonya had to think through “Two trains are traveling in opposite directions. The first train leaves at 05:45 and is traveling at….” Did you just cringe? To me, these cards were fun.
We especially enjoyed deciphering ciphers together (say that 10x real fast). Remember ciphers as a kid? Your friends and you developed some cryptic way to communicate, that pattern to prevent others from reading your highly important messages. You thought you were so clever.
Mom taught me different patterns like Caesar Box. Do you know that one? It’s pretty simple. Here, give it a try: BKCESRIIRFENPSUAGHIN. I’ll give you the answer at the end of the article. Even today, I play with ciphers and dig cryptography.
Our story time was when my brother and I wrote and then told the story. Stories included illustrations, handcrafted by little Terry and Tonya. I especially liked poetry. We had debate night, where you literally debated some topic with both of my parents. My mother encouraged open discussions. And if you had an opinion or thought, you were expected to thoroughly express it in a respectful manner.
Okay, you’re probably thinking that my childhood was a drag or some psychology experiment. Don’t worry. My brother and I spend hours every day playing, dreaming, and being kids.
Try to solve this message: BKCESRIIRFENPSUAGHIN
When I was around eight, my mother started working as a manager of a retail electronics store. She was fascinated by business, inventory, and electronics. Though she didn’t know it, she was a student of physics. Her store had individual components as well as complete kits. We’d pick out a project together and bring it home. It was fun to build electronic cars, radios, flying things, and clocks. She taught me how to solder, though I don’t know where she learned that skill. We just figured it out.
My love for technology started during this time, long before there were personal computers in people’s homes. Building those kits together, customizing them with different components, and figuring out how each worked was fun. I still smile thinking about her eyes lighting up once we got it to work.
Those early games built the foundation of my problem-solving skills. She was teaching me critical thought, step-by-step processing, analysis, pattern recognition, reasoning, and communication. She taught me to mentally explore and consider. She taught me to think many steps ahead. She wrapped it all up into games that we played every day.
Grown Up Tonya – Let the Games Continue
I play games every day. I’m continuing the behavioral patterns that my mother taught me. It’s my habit. Until recently, it never occurred to me that these games were brain food to help me continuously build and fine-tune my problem-solving skills. I’m just having fun.
My strategy – I do things that make me think to figure it out: games, TV, movies, books, etc.
I really dig numbers, patterns, logic problems, and anything that has a strategic element to it. I like thinking ahead, exploring the why of something, and considering all the potential paths. I like decoding a problem set. Julie told me the other day that everything I do is wrapped around this process. It’s engrained in me.
The television shows I like to watch are thought-provoking, whether it’s a documentary or some whodunit. I like to think when I watch. We have a game where we try to solve the mystery within the first part of a show. We watch espionage, law, mysteries, and political dramas just to play these games.
How about my mobile devices? What apps will you find on them? Both my iPad and phone have puzzle apps. I like Sudoku, number sequencers, cryptography, and logic problems. I even have real puzzles, where I challenge myself to put it together as fast as I can.
When I was ill, I had memory problems. The seizures and medicines really messed me up. My mother-in-law turned me on to lumosity. I can’t recommend that app enough for you. It’s cognitive games that fine-tune your spatial, memory, speed, attention, and problem-solving. All of us need these skills. Go there, play the games, and level up.
Techniques for You
You need to find the games that work for you. You can do crossword puzzles to chess to video games. Anything that makes you think, reason, and consider is exercising your brain. Try to mix it up as each game will exercise different aspects. Do word jumbles in the newspaper. Get the Sudoku app and try to solve the grid as quickly as you can. Get a chess app and play. Read about different strategies and then go try it.
The key here is to find games that you like. Reasoning, memory, analytical thought, and critical thought are vital for you throughout your life. Add it to your learning roadmap. Make it a daily habit. And if you make it a game, then it’s challenging and fun. Plus, you’ll want to do it. Listen to me. Exercise your noodle every single day.
Caesar Box Cipher Pattern
It’s named after Julius Caesar, as they say the Romans used this pattern to code messages. Here’s the code I gave to you: BKCESRIIRFENPSUAGHIN. With this pattern, you break up the alphabetic characters into equal groupings. So count the number of characters. Then evenly group them. In my example, there are 20 characters. Let’s try to group them into sets of five, like this:
BKCES RIIRF ENPSU AGHIN
Still looks like gobbledygook. Then take each grouping and put it on a separate line:
Now read it down the columns, starting with the left column. Read down the column and then back up to the next column.
“Breaking ciphers is fun”
I know this is one of the simplest forms of cryptography. But give me a break as I was only 5 or so.