One of the most awe inspiring things on the planet is a Great White Shark pursuing and attacking its prey. Their massive power and relentlessly thrashing once they have latched onto a meal is legendary. The ferocity of these creatures is so memorizing it led to the creation of Discovery Channels show: Shark Week. The raw power used by these predators to attack their target is truly amazing and it is this visual image I have in mind when I think about thrashing in the early stages of a hard problem.
What is Thrashing
Thrashing, as a form of problem solving, is all about raw energy output directed into a problem along with a dogged drive to reach a solution. This is an all out attack on the problem using all of your physical, mental, and emotional resources to gain ground and win. Because thrashing is an “all in” approach it has has to be used appropriately to secure its advantages and avoid its risks.
The main advantage of thrashing is speed to a solution. This is a “waste no time” method involving rapid fire trial and error, along with maximum effort until the problem is solved. Thrashing may result in quickly finding a partial solution, giving you some margin to adjust and slow down your approach. The primary disadvantage is burn out, thrashing takes loads of focus and energy and is not sustainable over long periods of time.
It is also important to know what isn’t thrashing. This is not whining, complaining or wasting energy and focus on diagnosing and troubleshooting what went wrong. Thrashing is not a tantrum. Thrashing must be focused.
One of the best examples of thrashing to solve a problem is battlefield casualty triage and care. If you really want to see thrashing in action I highly recommend watching Hacksaw Ridge . The principle at work is simple and evident in the actions being taken. Find the wounded, stop the bleeding, transport them to safety… repeat.
Sometimes in life we have to be more like the Great White Shark. Powerfully charging into the fray and latching onto a problem and thrashing relentlessly until we break free with a solution.
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