Monthly Archives: September 2010

Discovery – and Rapid Learning Cycles

What do you want to discover today?

Heuristic (pronounced /hjʉˈrɪstɨk/, from the Greek “Εὑρίσκω” for “find” or “discover”) is an adjective for experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. Archimedes is said to have shouted “Heureka” (later converted to “Eureka”) after discovering the principle of displacement in his bath.  You might remember from physics that displacement is the principle that a floating object will displace its own weight in water.


Heuristics is the art of solving a problem in the best or most optimal way that is possible.  The optimal solution will be the most elegant one that is possible.  In nature, we find that the solutions have been created to be the most optimal, with nothing wasted.  The design of a plant is unique to its environment, taking in the right amount of light from the sun and nourishment from the soil.

When humans attempt to solve a knotty, or difficult, problem, we have to use a trial-and-error method.  We are limited, and do not take all the variables and parameters into account.

Enter Learning Cycles … Rapid Learning Cycles (RLCs) are a method of laying out the problem and approaching it with a series of rapid iterations of building, prototyping, and testing each one.

The best developers and inventors practice the art of RLCs. Thomas Edison reportedly tried something on the order of 3,000 materials for the filament of the electric lightbulb.

Or take the case of Charles Goodyear.  By the mid 1830s, it seemed as though the rubber industry in America was going under. The problem with the new material was that it was unstable – becoming completely solid and cracking in the winter, then melting into goo in the summer. Miraculously the industry was saved by inventor Charles Goodyear – a man with no knowledge of chemistry who worked stubbornly and tenaciously to develop vulcanized rubber.

After incidentally learning about rubber’s fatal flaw, Charles Goodyear became determined to invent a way to make the substance more stable. Without a steady job, he lived for years off of advancements from investors. When his experiments with rubber continually failed, Goodyear reduced his family to poverty, was jailed for debt and derided by society as a mad man.

Undeterred, inventor Charles Goodyear finally found that, by uniformly heating sulfur- and lead-fortified rubber at a relatively low temperature, he could render the rubber melt-proof and reliable. He patented the process in 1844, licensed it to manufacturers and was ultimately hailed as a genius.

Years after his death, when the age of automobiles dawned, two brothers from Ohio decided to name their company after the man who made their product possible – hence Goodyear tires were born.

So, discover something today using rapid learning cycles… and don’t be discouraged by the iterative nature of problem solving.


Source for Charles Good year story: