How to Do Anything

The Basics:

Plan → Do → Test

Put another way:

Design → Make → Measure

Or maybe:

Consider → Act → Verify

These are all the same at the core. Under the assumption that you have a problem to solve, you decide how to solve that problem, try your solution, and then see if it worked. In some disciplines, this will be repeatable, allowing you to push a particular project towards perfection. In others, testing is destructive, or the making is a unchangeable (You can’t uncook an omelette), so you take your experiences back to the planning stages, and go again, but with better planning and building.

SCIENCE!

To make these processes scientific, 4 things are required:

  • Tests must be specific
  • Making must be consistent
  • Changes to the making must be limited to one testable change
  • EVERYTHING MUST BE WRITTEN DOWN AND TRACKED

It’s much harder to misremember the meaning of things which are written down. It’s not impossible, which is why one must also try to improve that skill.

An Example

An omelette:

The plan: Collect 3 eggs, some cheese (how about smoked gouda?), a shallot, a little milk. We’ll cook in the skillet. Ah, butter to keep things from sticking.

We will break the eggs into the bowl, beat them a little, oh, we’ll need a fork. We’ll chop up the shallot. Need a sharp knife. We’ll cut off some of the gouda.

We’ll heat the skillet to pretty hot, putting the butter in early. When the butter just begins to brown, we’ll put in the eggs. Wait, we want the milk in the eggs before it goes into the pan. All right, milk in eggs, stirred, eggs in the pan, flip it, shallots and cheese on top, wait a little, fold it to make the cheese melt, slide onto plate. Oops, need a plate.

The doing: (Well, writing about the doing is a bit boring, since it’s mostly a recap of the above. Let’s get on to…

The Test:

  1. Taste: Good, eggy. Could use salt.
  2. Shallots. Also good, but maybe sauce them next time.
  3. Cheese. Hot, same as the eggs, but not melted. (Consulting Google) Oh, smoked aged gouda doesn’t melt as easily as most cheese. Oh, and it turns out it’s pronounced GOW da. Who knew?

Let’s get meta

Note that our plan includes a mental walk through of the process of doing. This is a highly important step when you are doing things which are destructive somehow, like cooking eggs or cutting wood. Once you’ve made a wrong cut, you generally have to spend time and money to recover. Of course, some things don’t lend themselves to a detailed walk through, but this technique is still useful. For instance, an important idea in engineering is to “fail quickly”. This doesn’t mean take weird short cuts, or overwork yourself, it means that you tackle the sections of the work with the highest difficulty first, since these are the things you will most likely fail at. If they prove infeasible, you haven’t wasted a lot of time solving easy problems that you now can’t use.

The End

It’s to be noted that a story as, as many things bounded in time, a beginning, and middle, and an end. A story is a way of making a thing known. In the beginning you set the scene, introduce the characters and introduce the conflict. In the middle, you develop the conflict, and move the characters towards resolution. In the end you resolve the conflict, and perhaps consider the resolution. While this seems pretty far away from planning, making and testing, it still works. Consider: You collect the characters, define a goal, act on that goal, and see if it has been met. Of course, for fun, we might fail the meet the goal a few times, which is very popular in action movies, but this still reflects the general process, since testing can, and will fail sometimes. Then, we reset, consider our plan, and go again.

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