How to Solve Problems Outside The System (Douglas Hofstadter on The Art of JOOTSing)

JOOTS stands for “Jumping Out Of The System.”

Image by Somchai Choosiri / EyeEm/ Getty Images
Image by Somchai Choosiri / EyeEm/ Getty Images

JOOTS stands for “Jumping Out Of The System.”

Jootsing is taking the leap.

The term was coined by Douglas Hofstadter, an American professor of cognitive science.

It’s a thinking tool in science, philosophy, and art.

A system is a complex set of assumptions, ideas, principles, personalities, and structures that have evolved over time, familiar, tried and true.

Systems gradually become established overtime, and people stop to question them, even though they may have a better approach.

We all use tools, and establshed systems to make progress in life and business, without thinking twice about them.

People who work within any system are respected — and safe.

And those who break the rules are sometimes considered criminals for jumping out of the system.

They are even labelled “irrational.”

To do something outside the status quo, you have to deliberately start from an “illogical” starting point.

Daniel Dennett, the author of Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, explains in his book that, productive jootsing sometimes involves subtraction, and sometimes addition.

“Being creative is not just a matter of casting about for something novel — anybody can do that, since novelty can be found in any random juxtaposition of stuff — but of making the novelty jump out of some system, a system that has become somewhat established, for good reasons. When an artistic tradition reaches the point where literally “anything goes,” those who want to be creative have a problem: there are no fixed rules to rebel against, no complacent expectations to shatter, nothing to subvert, no background against which to create something that is both surprising and yet meaningful. It helps to know the tradition if you want to subvert it. That’s why so few dabblers or novices succeed in coming up with anything truly creative.”

The uncomfortable truth is that if people don’t challenge long-held assumptions, the status quo will always prevail, often with disastrous results.

Human progress and advances in life and business depend on Jootsing.

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes, “…look at all the rules that smart people have violated throughout history, to the enormous profit of humanity. Indeed, the most amazing acts of creativity are those that violate the rules that we would least expect to be violated.”

Creativity is about Jumping Out Of The System.

Creativity moves beyond rules, standards, principles and guidance.

JOOTSing goes beyong divergent thinking (generating multiple ideas) and convergent thinking (finding what works).

To JOOTSing better, you have to reason about and outside the system, rather than always working within it.

You have to strive for the unusual!

You can only break the rules if you understand them.

Daniel Dennett, explains:

“Sit down at a piano and try to come up with a good new melody and you soon discover how hard it is. All the keys are available, in any combination you choose, but until you can find something to lean on, some style or genre or pattern to lay down and exploit a bit, or allude to, before you twist it, you will come up with nothing but noise. ”

True creators, innovators, and disruptors are not afraid to “jump” out of the “system” to create and invent something even better, and faster.

The Daily Beast explains:

“— the goal is to pop out of the goldfish bowl of commonplace ideas without drowning in thin air. Think of Plato’s Cave, for instance. That little story has helped philosophers puzzle about the nature of reality for more than 23 centuries and counting.”

Jootsing completely is hard but works.

Many people strive to think and act outside the system but end up jumping only to a different corner of the system, not out of it entirely.

To effectively Jootsing, study and understand the system in question, then disrupt it, turn it upside down.

Work backwards and invite randomness.

Take a problem, find its obvious solution and eliminate it.

The key is to “start” with a perspective that, by definition, doesn’t make sense within the existing system (or “box”) and then extract an attribute or direction of thinking from that starting point to create, or build something new.

There are several courses of action you can take when you choose to Joots.

  1. You can reject the system altogether, and create something new that may be considered absurd.
  2. You can hold a different point of view instead of abonding the system altogether if you are not ready to joots completely just yet.
  3. You can also incorporate the current system into a new larger system, rather than regarding it as a system complete in itself.

Jootsing is almost like thinking outside the box, but different.

Embrace lateral thinking

Lateral thinking means deliberately setting out to look at a challenge from completely different angles to find great solutions that would otherwise remain hidden.

As Einstein said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”.

A new approach is probably all you need to get unstuck.

Break away from vertical thinking.

Vertical: Step by step, analyzing, based on facts and convention, one expected result.

Lateral: Provokes, jumps from one to another, breaks the rules, looks at possibilities, many results

Shane Snow, author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success explains:

Lateral Thinking is the process of solving problems via different angles than you might expect. It doesn’t happen when you do more of the same thing. So just simply working harder may not accomplish a goal like rethinking the approach you’re taking. Lateral thinking is about getting in the mindset of breaking the rules that aren’t really rules; they’re just the way things have been conventionally done in the past.

The jootsing process

First, make sure you know your system inside out.

Know the traditions and the history of your system. This will prevent you from re-inventing the wheel.

Secondly, check your assumptions about that system.

Find the most basic truths of the problem.

Elon Musk explains (First Principles Thinking), “Boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say ‘okay, what are we sure is true’…and then reason up from there.”

When the assumptions/truths/elements are identified, take the third step and create your new assumption/solutions from scratch.

One that will move you forward.

And finally, subtract what will no longer serve you.

Dig deeper

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