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"motivation ... some kind of desire to find out the answer, the desire to find out what makes things tick."

Even when it comes to the most basic everyday tasks -- making a pot of coffee, parallel parking, or folding the laundry -- it's one thing to do them; it's something else entirely to shut off the force of habit and explain, step-by-step, how you are doing them.

Step 1: Simplify
Step 2: Fill your 'mental matrix' with solutions to similar problems.
Step 3: Approach the problem from many different angles.
Step 4: Break a big problem down into small pieces.
Step 5: Solve the problem 'backwards.'
Step 6: If you've solved the problem, extend that solution out as far as it will go.

-- Claude Shannon


Shannon's information theory offered just such a reorientation of an old problem. In this case, it was the problem of communicating accurately at great distances. Nearly a century of conventional wisdom held that the solution required, in essence, talking louder -- sending signals with more power. Shannon, on the other hand, demonstrated that the most reliable solution really lay in talking smarter -- developing digital codes to protect messages from error. The engineering professor James Massey called this insight "Copernican": In other words, it took an old way of seeing the world and turned it on its head.

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