There has always been something appealing to me about determining why something is (or more frequently is not) working. I enjoy the process of determining why the expected results are not matching the actual results and how that has occurred. The on-going process from there of determining where the issue is then becomes and interesting exercise in going down different investigatory paths to determine “where things have gone wrong”.
One aspect of this that is always pleasing is when you don’t have to go too far down an investigatory path to know that anything along that path can be ruled out. The larger that investigatory path could have been, the more time you can save if there is a simple, straight-forward reason to either cut that path out or continue down that path.
I came along a fantastic example of this and it pleased me to no end to see a question that could have taken ages and ages to investigate all the paths, but a simple, straight-forward piece of information meant the entire path could be culled back. True, the author ended up going down those investigatory paths anyways, but that was for knowledge, learning and entertainment, not because he had a time critical issue that needed to be resolved.
The example I saw was in Randall Monroe’s What If website (an amazing collection of interesting information and “serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions”) around starting fires using magnifying glass and moonlight (or really any other light source). In the beginning Randall notes “You can’t use lenses and mirrors to make something hotter than the surface of the light source itself”. Done (well done if you needed to close down that investigatory path and not produce a piece of entertainingly delivered information on lenses and mirrors).
This is one of those items that is just so great in its simplicity, that factor and information immediately reduces a ton of work. So if, for example, you were looking at investing in two different technologies that were unproven and unknown with one being based around fire starting from moonlight, you could easily cut out all the other investigation on if the business model is sound or where the startup capital would come from and could focus on the other opportunity.
The best version of this is when there is a solution to what you want to do and a multitude of ways to provide that solution, but a vast majority have this trimming down effect and you can get to two or three possible solutions that you can spend more time and by extension have better understanding and choose the best solution.