Inspiration

Learn by Solving Solved Problems

Photo by keith ellwood under CC BY 2.0 license

Although my activities within an average day tend to be more of a mixed bag lately, I still spend a lot of time writing code, mostly for websites and web apps. And I’m not that far-removed from being a newbie.

In web development, when someone wants to learn how build an app, it’s usually best if you build an app while you’re learning. First, a little theory, then something practical. And far and away, the most popular example app is something that mimics Twitter.

Why? Just because the core idea that still drives Twitter today is actually really, really simple. So it’s a good place to start.

But no one’s going to try to actually rebuild Twitter. That’s a fool’s errand.


I also play the guitar.

When I was first learning the guitar, I read about some theory, then learned a few chords, and then mimicked (in music we call it covered) a few songs. I recall Free Fallin’ being among the first songs I learned.

Why? Because you have to move only two fingers the entire time.

But I wouldn’t rewrite Free Fallin’. I’ll leave that to Tom Petty.


Last year I started growing some herbs and vegetables.

I read a bit about the plants I was going to attempt to grow, I watched a few videos, and then I dove in.

Why? Because it’s not too difficult or expensive, and it’s kind of fun.

But I wouldn’t grow all of the food I eat because it’s not cost-effective for me. The grocery store will always be where I get the majority of my fresh food.


In all three of these examples, I’ve done something someone else has already done. I’ve, in a way, solved a problem that’s already been solved.

But that’s how we learn when we begin. We learn the theory behind the solutions of the people that came before us. Then we learn how they solved their problems.

We’re all used to doing this as beginners, but once we get more comfortable, we tend to stop. Once we’re skilled enough, we take solutions from others and apply them to our own.

In programming, I can take a library that makes styling a site really easy. In music, I can steal a snippet of someone’s song and use the recording in my own. In the garden, I can get better technology and tools to make plants grow faster and taller.

But don’t be afraid to not do the easy thing every once in awhile. Because solving a problem that’s already been solved brings us back to the learning process. And it’s learning that will continue to make us better at what we do.

So, take a second to learn. Take a break from stressing about output, and enhance the base of your capabilities.

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The Polymath Lab will be closing its doors in 2017. Many articles here will be moved to Sean's Medium account, which is the space in which he is currently writing.