The Office bestowed many bits of wisdom upon us. My favorite gem is from Dwight Schrute, when he recounts the best advice he was ever given: Don’t be an idiot. He then expands upon this nugget:

Before I do anything, I ask myself, “Would an idiot do that?” And if the answer is yes, I do not do that thing.

Yes, this is Dwight being Dwight. But there is wisdom to be gained from this notion, which I am [proud/embarrassed] to admit I think about frequently.

When working — be it programming, linguistics, writing, etc. — it’s easy enough to burn out. If a program isn’t working as expected, I might try changing variables, at random, in a desperate attempt to get it to work. Or, worse, I’ll sit there staring at my screen.

This is how an idiot works

Good ideas rarely happen when you’re doing the same thing over and over again, e.g. flipping variables or staring blankly. If I catch myself in this sort of loop, I will, a la Dwight, stop doing That Thing. The stopping of That Thing can mean doing anything that is not That Thing, from stretching/walking around, to getting a cup of coffee, to going grocery shopping. The main idea is, The Thing I am doing, or my current approach to The Thing, is not working. Only an idiot would keep trying the same approach to The Thing, and expect a different, or more successful, outcome.

And the funny thing is, this works! If I’m stuck on a programming problem that I’m sure is unsolvable, it’s uncanny how often the solution presents itself 2 minutes after I return from my break. I guess it pays to not be an idiot.