Try the simplest thing that could possibly work

Classroom exercises always have nice, tidy solutions. So students implicitly assume that all problems have nice, tidy solutions. If the solution isn’t working out simply, you must have made a mistake.

Outside the classroom, applications seldom have simple solutions. So after a while you get jaded and quit trying to find a simple solution. But sometimes real problems do have simple solutions, or at least simpler solutions than seemed possible.

The Extreme Programming folks have a saying “Try the simplest thing that could possibly work.” If that doesn’t work, then try the next simplest thing that could possibly work. That line of thinking has paid off a few times lately.

I’ve had a couple math problems that I first assumed had to be approximated numerically that were more easily computed exactly. And I’ve had a couple programs where I was able to debug a section of code by simply deleting it. Things don’t always work out that well, but it’s fun when they do.

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