Fresh Angles

Updated: Feb 11, 2019

A colleague once commented I was too stupid to know what I cannot do after solving an especially tough problem which had stymied a key element of a project for months. I was recently hired to work for the company and had been immediately assigned to that project without any formal orientation to it. No documentation other than existing code (part of which had been irretrievably lost) had been provided. No one with any knowledge of what had been tried so far was assigned to work alongside. I took his comment as a complement since all predecessors assigned to the task had failed to find a practical solution. I had taken a fresh angle on one of my earliest professional challenges and it had paid off.

This tendency to accomplish things some would say are not possible has served me well throughout my career. I make no claims of intellectual brilliance, more often than not feeling I am not very smart and probably overcompensating for lack of mental acuity through dogged study, agile experimentation and unrelenting perseverance. But after others have walked away from a problem, I always seemed to eventually find a solution, even if it took me a while to do so. My supervisors never complained that I wasn't a Speedy Gonzales at solving them, choosing instead to assign me to still more problems others had abandoned.

Reflection is key too. Retrospection has always been essential for refining ideas and transforming bad actions into good ones. They also help me prevent waking up in a new world each day, unaware of what transpired the previous day which might affect today.

Constantly questioning this approach even though reflection kept proving it viable, I spent most of my 20+ years working as a professional feeling I was nothing more than a big fat fraud. So it's heartening to come across incidents where others have applied these "too stupid to know what cannot be done" techniques to solve problems in practical ways others have claimed are just not possible. Case in point: Ewin Tang used classical computing techniques to solve the "recommendation problem" which was previously believed to be solvable in a practical way–due to theoretical speed up advantages–only possible through quantum computing approaches.

Not to detract from Ewin's brilliance (he is still a teenager at time this post was published), but I have no doubt in my mind his ignorance of what others deemed impossible, his tenacity and his reflection abilities played a huge part in finding a practical solution to the problem using existing technology rather than sitting around waiting for development of still-theoretical quantum computers to become usable tools. A reassuring bit of affirmation that taking fresh angles are indeed worth the risk.