problem solving methodology

Thinking in extremes. A problem-solving methodology.

My senior design project professor in college, Haris Catrakis, was fresh meat straight outta Caltech. He had just joined the engineering faculty at UC Irvine.

It’s not that teaching students at UCI is perilous. It’s having to deal with the other faculty members that becomes a problem. At least it was this way in the late 1990s.

At the time, I had heard the faculty was nasty towards each other. Fighting over resources, backstabbing etc. And one faculty member, in particular, was sadistic to their grad students. This I know for a fact because I was friends with this grad student.

Needless to say, I wasn’t fond of the School of Engineering. I mean, I had some good professors and I had some that didn’t seem to care too much. They weren’t all bad. My hunch was that private schools provided a better overall education than public research universities, simply because the focus is more on students and less on research. However, if you could survive five years of it, you would enter the world ready to handle any situation thrown at you.

From what I could tell, Haris J. Catrakis was a good guy. He was always positive, in a good mood and friendly to engineering students. I also lived in his research lab for a whole quarter and I’m not sure if he was ever aware of this. Thanks Haris!


I slept in this lab almost every night of Winter Quarter 1999. I was having roommate issues at my apartment. Sleeping in this lab was an extreme solution. Got on the Dean’s List that quarter with all engineering classes, so it worked out quite well!

Anyway, there’s something Haris told me once that I’ll never forget. It was a method of solving problems. I find it comes in handy from time to time.

He said that one of his friends would always start a solution to a problem by thinking about the extreme boundaries of the problem. Then once you’ve visualized the problem and its extreme edges, postulate a set of possible solutions. Finally, iterate inward until you find a good fit.

I’ve always like this perspective to problem-solving. Because sometimes when you start asking yourself why something crazy couldn’t be the solution you’re looking for, it ends up being a solution. Sometimes when we change our perspective on whatever it is we’re dealing with, we find answers.

Anyway, this was just a little trip down memory lane. Back to an extreme time in my life that worked out well in the end. Remember to always think in extremes!

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1 thought on “Thinking in extremes. A problem-solving methodology.

  1. Yekaterina (Katiya) Pavlova

    I accidentally ran in to your blog and saw a familiar name. Could not help but comment. I was a student of Haris too, some time after you I think. I went from fluid mech to applied math in caltech to biology then to trading stocks, its been a crazy diverse ride. But through all of my endeavors, i always remembered the random little things Cartakis used to say back when i knew him as an undergrad. The dude was awesome, Im glad others remember him too, hope he is doing well.


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