Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Problems and Creativity

I recently posted a tweet
When #testing should we be problem finders or problem solvers? Problem finders appears to think more creatively is this aligned to ET?
This started a few discussions with people tweeting that surely it is best as a tester to be both and that they see their role as being a problem finder and a problem solver.  Some took it that being a problem solver is better since you are looked on more positively.

Francesco @TesterSerendip
@steveo1967 @mpkhosla@JariLaakso @tonybruce77 hence better at finding bugs. Plus you are perceived as one with a positive mindset 
Other that they see themselves primary as problem solvers
Tony Bruce @tonybruce77
@steveo1967 I'm a problem solver, I approach the problem differently#testing
I then made the following tweet:
John Stevenson ‏@steveo1967
@mpkhosla @JariLaakso @TesterSerendip being in a problem finding mode may be better for a tester when testing since you may be > creative
My tweets came about after reading some books and articles on the following subjects

This led to me researching the concept that our mind-set within the field of testing appears to mainly be focused on problem solving and that our default state when testing is be in a 'problem solving' mode.  Very little focus or attention seems to have been placed on using our creative skills and entering a mind-set of being a problem finder.  The more I researched into this the more I felt that in some testing situations especially when doing testing practically we are missing opportunities to think more creativity and we are limiting ourselves when we approach testing with the mind-set of trying to solve problems rather than find problems.

One piece of information I related to was from *James Bach or Michael Bolton in how we should approach session based test management.  When in a session we should be looking for problems, creating new tests and noting things of interest which could be bugs.  We should focus on the opportunities and come back to find out if it is a bug/issue (problem solving exercise) after the session as finished.  The principle of this is if you stop to try and solve the problem you could lose track and focus and your creative thinking will become disrupted.  Einstein is quoted as saying the following:

“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Which IMO matches the thoughts I have on the issue of problem finding and solving.  Yes we need both but they require different thinking.

This is the key point I was trying to make with my statement whilst we are testing in the context of actually being in a session our mind set should be on problem finding.  Having a mind-set focused on problem finding according to some articles has been proven to be more creative.

“Anyone who is technically proficient can solve a problem that is already formulated: but it takes true originality to formulate a problem in the first place (Einstein and Infeld, 1938).”

“…persons who are likely to innovate tend to have personality traits that favour breaking rules and early experiences that make them want to do so. Divergent thinking, problem finding, and all the other factors that psychologists have studied are relevant in this context.”

“Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels (1971) found that originality was high related to problem finding and discovery oirientation”

“Getzels believed that creativity investigators should turn their attention to and examine problem finding in addition to problem solving”

“Many creative individuals have pointed out in their work that the formulation of a problem is more important than its solution and that real advances in science and in art tend to come when new questions are asked or old problems are viewed from a new angle . . . yet when measuring thinking processes, psychologists usually rely on problem solution, rather than problem formulation, as an index of creativity. . . They thus fail to deal with one of the most interesting characteristics of the creative process' namely, the ability to define the nature of the problem”

“We believe that this neglect of problem finding is a deficiency that is observable in the discourse on problem solving within technology education.”

What I am not saying is that we do not need to be problem solvers; this is part of our role.  I think the subject matter of this article is similar back to a previous article I have written on which mood we should be in to test software  and which gives us more benefit.

In some situations it may be better to be in a problem solving mind set and in others it may be better to be in a problem finding mind set.  Both have their merits.  What I feel I am trying to get across that if you need to create ideas and be innovative you need to have a mind-set that is looking at being a problem finder rather than a problem solver.   However if have a solution to a problem you may want to flip this around.  Then with a problem finding mind-set examine the solution for problems.

To conclude I will repeat what was said earlier by Einstein and Infield
“Anyone who is technically proficient can solve a problem that is already formulated: but it takes true originality to formulate a problem in the first place (Einstein and Infeld, 1938).”
I feel if there is one thing that people take away from this article it is that statement.

Further reading

  1. Out of our minds – Ken Robinson
  2. Perspectives in Creativity -   By Irving A. Taylor, Jacob W.. Getzels
  3. Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development – Robert Sternberg
  4. Perspective: Problem Finding and the Multidisciplinary Mind -  Linda Austin
  5. The Creative Vision: A Longitudinal Study of Problem Finding in -  J. W. Getzels, M. Csikszentmihalyi
  6. What's Holding You Back?: 8 Critical Choices for Women's Success -  By Linda Austin, M.D

* If anyone can direct me to a reference where this came from and it was not just a conversation I have had then please let me know.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Ethnographic research feedback

Sometime ago I wrote an article about the relationship between ethnographic researchers and testers and how similar they are.  Recently Peter H-L (@Unlicensed2test) on twitter reminded me that I had also presented at the UNICOM  conference on using some aspects of ethnographic research to aid feedback when we are testing and from this I came up with a new mnemonic and a set of testing related social science questions.   I had thought that I had already posted this but it seems I had not.

What follows is taken from the talk I did.

Within the article there was a section that dealt with questions that the researcher should be asking when studying the subject.  I changed this to make it relate to software testing and came up with the following:

  • Substantive Contribution: "Does the testing carried out contribute to our understanding of the software?"
  • Aesthetic Merit: "Does the software succeed aesthetically?" Is it suitable for the end user?
  • Reflexivity: "How did the author come to write this test…Is there adequate self-awareness and self-exposure for the reader to make judgements about the point of view?"
  • Impact: "Does this affect me? Emotionally? Intellectually?" Does it move me?
  • Expresses a Reality: "Does it seem 'true'—a credible account of a requirement'?"

Lynne Mckee has been updating a list of testing mnemonics on her blog site  so I thought about this and came up with the following mnemonic:


From this I created a list of questions under each of these heading that can be used to aid feedback when you have been testing, ideally when you are following session based test management.

Use the following template to do a personal review of the testing that you carried out during the day.
Please try not to answer using yes and no, expand on your reasons for either it being yes or no.
This debrief/review is more about your views, opinions and feelings rather than the product you have been testing.
It should only take you 10 minutes to complete this feedback – try not to write essays.


Personal reflection:
  • Could you have done things better if so what? (Both from a personal and testing perspective)
  • Have you learnt new things about the product under test (That are not documented)?
  • Has your view of the product changed for better or for worse? Why has your view changed?

‘Epistemological reflexivity’ (What limits did we hit?)
  • Did your defined tests limit the information you could find about the product?  (Did you need to explore new areas that you had not defined)
  • Could your tests have been done differently? If yes how?
  • Have you run the right tests?
  • If you did things different what do you think you would have found out about the product?
  • What assumptions have you uncovered to be true/false?
  • Did the assumptions you make impede or help your testing?

  • In your opinion is the product suitable for the end user?
  • In your opinion is the product appealing at first look?
  • In your opinion is the product confusing?
  • In your opinion does the product flow?
  • In your opinion are there any ugly areas?
  • In your opinion does the product succeed aesthetically? Does it meet the image the customer is trying to portray?

(this section is intended to be used to say how you 'feel' about the product, your first impressions, if you answer yes you should provide more details)
  • Does this affect you?
    • Emotionally?
    • Intellectually?
  • Does it move you?
  • Does it cause you negative/positive feelings?
  • Does it frustrate you?
  • Does it annoy you?

  • Have we covered a substantial amount of the key product areas?
  • Has the testing contributed to your understanding of the product?
  • Do you think you have a substantial understanding of the system and sub systems?
  • Does your knowledge of the system have any substantial gaps?
  • Could you easily explain the system to a first time user?

  • Does the product seem 'true'—a credible account of a requirement'?
  • Does the product express what will happen in ‘real’ world?
  • Does the reality of the product match the expectations of the product?
  • Does the product express unexpected ways of working?


To make it easier I have create a MS word document with the questions in which you can download from Google docs here.