Rubber Ducks and How to Deal with this Pandemic

How’s self-isolation going for you? For me, it’s something that I’m slowly getting used to while slowly going insane. I miss the constant social interaction with co-workers I used to get while in the office. More importantly, I miss bouncing ideas off other people.

I often considered myself a loner. I would rather do a project by myself than be forced into doing a group project with others. It’s just how I’ve always been. But while I’ve been trying to adjust to this new work-from-home lifestyle, I’ve found that talking with others was an important problem-solving method I used at work. Specifically, talking through a problem I was having, even if the other person listening to me didn’t have the answer themselves.

While we can make a phone call or set up a quick zoom meeting, sometimes talking through a problem needs to be a little more spontaneous. Think about how often you’ve sat in the same room as somebody, started to ask a question, and while you were providing the background to your question, you had that “A-HA!” moment and solved the question yourself.

The problem right now, is that it’s not so easy getting somebody else to sit in the same room as you for you to bounce questions off them.

So, we need something much simpler and much more efficient when it comes to solving small problems while being on our own. And this is where the rubber ducky comes into play.

Rubber Duck Problem Solving

Rubber Duck Problem Solving is something that is mainly discussed in the tech and software engineering world. It’s a way of debugging problems without having to ask anybody else your question. It’s deceptively simple yet highly effective. And in our current situation, I think it can come in handy more now than ever. So, the question is, how does a rubber duck solve most of your problems?

You ask it questions.

Yep, you read that right. You ask the rubber duck your questions. Don’t hold back either. You’ll find that you can solve most of your questions if you simply ask the question aloud. You can read a famous story that has circulated around the internet about solving problems with a duck (in this case it was a stuffed duck rather than a rubber duck). You’ll find that it isn’t the rubber duck that is going to solve your problems. It’s the fact that you are committing to asking the duck your question, aloud, in complete sentences.

Here’s a quick breakdown for what you need to do.

  1. Obtain a rubber duck. You can use an action figure, doll, or anything else that you wouldn’t mind personifying while it’s sitting on your desk.
  2. Formulate your question. Figure out the question that you would typically ask of someone if they were there in the room with you. Make sure your question is properly thought out and detailed. You need to fill the duck in with all the appropriate information for you to get your answer. After all, it can’t read your mind.
  3. Ask your question aloud. Yes, aloud. You might feel dumb at first but trust me, it works. The true power here in asking the duck your question is asking it aloud as if the duck were a person that could actually respond with a well-thought-out answer.
  4. ??? Profit Often times, when you’re stumped on a problem that you can’t seem to work out in your head, you just need to ask the question out loud to somebody (or something) else. While you’re going through the analytical reasoning of pulling together all the right parts and pieces in your mind to ask your question, you’ll find that most times your brain will be able to piece the solution together as you’re asking the question.

That’s all there is to it! If you think I’m nuts, check out this whole wikipedia article about the topic. It’s really a thing. And, I highly suggest adding it to your productivity toolset in this time of isolation. It’ll help you think through problems your having and, hey, if you feel dumb doing it, remember that there’s nobody else around right now to watch you!

-Alex Johnson