October 14, 2023




Problem Solving in the Digital Age

At a glance

Today’s Fast Summary:

  • Today, with just a few clicks, you can access vast amounts of information. But with widespread availability comes a harsh reality: We no longer know how to solve problems on our own.

  • In an age where facts’ are immediately available, you must learn to judge between competing facts. Your brains just aren’t yet wired to do so.

  • Search engines, LLMs, and Bezos’s Reversible and Irreversible decisions framework aid in your ability to research and execute decisions.

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Problem Solving in the Digital Age

“The human mind must be creative…it cannot depend on just gadgets to amuse itself.” - Lee Kuan Yew

Due to widespread internet availability, humans in the digital age are more connected and intellectually plastic than ever before. Within a few clicks, we have access to vast amounts of information—information that was virtually inaccessible 60 years ago.

William Schrader says this of individuals in the digital age, “[they] will enjoy cognitive ability far beyond our estimates today….. With or without devices on them, they will communicate with ease, waxing philosophic and joking in the same sentence.”

However, with these colossal gains comes a harsh reality: We no longer know how to solve problems on our own.

In an age where facts’ are immediately available, we must learn to judge between competing facts. Our brains just aren’t yet wired to do so.

For example, as Dana Levin says, those with access to the internet, “may be less likely to take longer routes to find information, seeking ‘quick fixes’ rather than taking the time to come to a conclusion or investigate an answer.”

This is especially prominent in the realm of problem-solving. Most problems require deep cognitive work; the internet’s brain training doesn’t provide us with the skills to think through a problem’s components.

Our increased access to information negatively affects our ability to problem solve, and we’ve begun to lag.

Hence the importance of frameworks to conquer this decline. Here’s a guide to solving problems in the digital age:

  1. Reversible vs. Irreversible Decision?

Before solving a problem, determine how much time it deserves using Bezos Reversible vs. Irreversible Decisions framework.

To avoid the information overload trap, Jeff Bezos asks himself, "Is this a reversible or irreversible decision?"

Reversible decisions are 'two-way doors.' You can reopen the door and go back through. In other words, if you make a poor decision, the result is relatively inconsequential.

Deciding where to buy coffee, what to wear, and whether to purchase a small appliance are reversible decisions.

You don’t have to live with the consequences of reversible decisions. These decisions can and should be made quickly.

Reversible decisions are 'one-way doors.' If you walk through them and don’t like the outcome, you can’t get back to where you were before.

Choosing a college or university, deciding to marry someone, choosing a new career path, or quitting a job are all irreversible decisions. Each of these choices comes with large consequences.

Some ‘irreversible’ decisions are technically reversible. For example, you can transfer schools, obtain a divorce, or find a new job. However, in each of these, you still have to live with the consequences of your initial decision.

Irreversible decisions come with large consequences and must be made slowly and deliberately. Research them in depth.

  1. “There Are No New Problems.”

Due to our widespread access to information and media, there are no ‘new’ problems under the sun. You must internalise this.

Every problem you encounter has been solved before—it’s your job to find where and how. Ask yourself these questions.

Conduct a search online, or consult digital resources to locate where and how the problem was solved in the past.

  1. Break Down the Problem.

Overinformation is the cause of our problem-solving dilemma on both a large and small scale. On the individual level, overinformation causes overwhelm.

Many of us feel adding components and complexities to the problem will solve it, but this isn’t true. Instead, break the problem into its smallest subcomponents: Employ decomplication.

Ask, “Which sub-problems comprise the larger one I’m trying to solve?” “Which of these smaller issues is most important?” “In what order do I need to solve them?”

Then, it’s time to find solutions.

  1. Leverage The Wisdom Of The Crowd

The phrase, wisdom of the crowd, refers to the idea that large groups of people are collectively better at problem-solving and decision-making than individual experts.

As Susan Price, CEO, says, “Our ability to connect, share, and exchange information with other human beings is a strong net positive for humanity.” Consulting with others eliminates bias.

Applying this problem-solving method takes a few forms:

  • Directly ask someone who might know something about the problem.

  • Searching and consulting an online forum that has context on the problem. Example: Reddit

  • Seeking an expert who’s handled the problem previously, or has information on the problem.

  1. Use Search Engines

Search engines yield vast amounts of information. They can be an efficient way to conduct research.

First, determine the type of information you seek. You can search listings, photos, videos, etc., based on the platform you use. Be thoughtful in your wording while you search. Doing so yields more profound results.

Use search engines for widespread, valuable information. For example, ChatGPT condenses large amounts of data to help you find distilled information.

  1. Use LLM’s—like ChatGPT—as a Brainstorming Partner

LLM stands for large language model; it is a type of AI algorithm that uses deep learning skills and large data sets to sift through information. LLMs can summarize and generate organic content.

LLMs can hallucinate–just like us—so we can’t rely on them for complete, factual information. However, they’re useful in getting us from zero to 1.

They surface a landscape of possibilities and we can assess their merits and relevance.

  1. Build A Second Brain Habit.

Overinformation is the cause of the problem, but what would happen if we harnessed it more effectively?

Much of the information we consume online, and oftentimes, it’s simply not relevant yet. Build a second brain habit: Save what you’re consuming for later.

When consuming content online, ask yourself, “In what context might I need this?”

If the answer is a current context, assess the information presented. If not, save it. When you encounter it, refer to what you saved.

Lee Kuan Yew says, “As you solve one set of problems, new ones appear. That is part of the nature of life.” Problems are a constant in society. Leverage the information you have to solve them.

Practice the problem-solving frameworks and methods discussed in this article. Visualise each method in detail. Rationalize how you can incorporate these skills into your thinking.

  1. Is it a reversible vs. irreversible decision?

    a. First, ask yourself, “Is this a reversible or irreversible decision?” Ponder the consequences of your choice.

    b. If a decision is reversible, make it quickly. Make irreversible decisions cautiously. Research them well.

  1. Employ decomplication.

    a. Think of a problem you’ve been struggling with. Break it into its smallest components. Don’t add to the problem. Avoid overvaluation.

    b. Ask yourself, “Which of these smaller issues is most important?” In what order do you need to solve them?

    c. Determine your starting place. Then, start solving.

  1. Consulting others yields greater benefits than individual thought. Leverage the wisdom of the crowd.

    a. Decide whether or not you’d benefit from other opinions. Most often, you will.

    b. Seek a personal friend who might be able to help you with the problem. Ask them to help.

    c. Search an online platform or forum like Reddit. Chat with others who’ve experienced the same thing.

    d. Research an expert in the area you’re struggling with, and ask them for guidance.

The digital age can create more problems than it solves. Navigate it carefully.


I’d love to hear from you:

  • What do you think about abundant information?

  • What are some problem-solving frameworks that help you navigate difficult issues?

  • Which of these will you try?

Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.

Have a wonderful Saturday, all.

Until next time,


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