Solving your startup problems with a rubber duck

TRC 033: Solving your startup problems with a rubber duck

founder experience start-ups Apr 25, 2024

Read time: 5 mins

Startup founder life involves dealing with a constant stream of incoming issues and opportunities.

It’s the eternal rollercoaster.

It can seem like you are having to be incessantly creative so you can meet the challenges that come your way.

But it can be difficult just rolling the problem around in your mind again and again in an attempt to find another solution in short order.

However, there is a technique that some coders use that can be just as powerful for helping you uncover solutions to your business problems.

🦆 What is Rubber Duck Debugging?

Rubber Duck Debugging is a method where you explain your problem, line by line, to an inanimate object (like a rubber duck) as if it were a living listener.

The strategy, originating from a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer, uses the power of verbalisation in uncovering solutions buried under the detail and complexities of the problem.

The Power of Verbalisation

When you describe your thoughts out loud, you slow down your thought process, which helps to:

  • Clarify your thinking: Speaking forces you to organise your thoughts coherently, making inconsistencies and gaps more apparent.
  • Break down the problem: Explaining complex code or start-up issues aloud can help break them into manageable parts.
  • Reduce cognitive load: Offloading your thoughts frees up mental space for creative problem-solving.

How You Can Apply This Technique

  1. Choose Your Duck: Any object can serve as your duck. It could be a plant, a coffee mug, or a lego figure.
  2. Isolate the Issue: Before you start talking, isolate the specific problem you are facing. This focus prevents overwhelming generalisations.
  3. Describe Out Loud: Begin explaining the problem to your duck (or its proxy). Don’t leave out details, assuming the duck knows anything about the issue. The greater the detail you can use, the greater the chance of new insights.
  4. Ask Questions: Pose possible questions your duck might have — this can provide new perspectives and uncover assumptions.
  5. Listen to Yourself: Sometimes, the act of verbalising can trigger realisations simply through hearing your own logic.

It’s about making your thought process tangible and audible.

Some people start with writing things down - I tend to start with a mind map as I like to be able to visualise my thoughts on one page.

However, verbally explaining the problem that you are trying to solve helps greatly in coming up with a solution, because it forces you to pay attention to detail.

Talking things through with co-founders and colleagues is important, but forcing yourself to say things out loud to an entity that isn’t going to offer solutions can be powerful in helping unlock the thoughts that lead to the best solutions.

Try it next time you are sat at home struggling to come up with a solution to a knotty problem.

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