Posted by bob on November 11, 2019

Are you right-handed? Are you left-handed? Or are you ambidextrous?

These terms are usually applied to your preferred hand for doing common tasks; especially writing or throwing things. We all learn first to do certain tasks with one hand (or foot or eye) and then we naturally struggle to try to do the same task with our other side.

Sometimes our first choice for one side leads to an unexpected impact on the other side. For example, if you learn to throw a baseball with your right hand, you will naturally wear the baseball glove on your left hand—which often means you are better at catching a baseball with that hand. Kicking with your right foot means that your left becomes your “plant foot” and you might find you can jump better from that leg.

It can be amazing, frustrating, and a little humorous to try to relearn simple tasks with your non-preferred limb.

I remember reading a book by basketball player Robert Cousy many years ago. Cousy said that breaking his preferred arm at a young age forced him to relearn a lot of his basketball skills using his other side. Later in his professional career, this made him a better player because his moves were far less predictable to the defense.  (

My younger son was originally ambidextrous. It was amazing to watch him draw and write on a blank page. He would start on the left with his left hand, and then switch to his right hand somewhere around the middle of the page. In elementary school, they made him choose a hand. He later said he regretted choosing his left, since our left-to-right and top-to-bottom system in English puts left-handers at a slight disadvantage as they drag their hand across newly written text. The left hand also tends to cover up what you have just written. To this day, he does some tasks left-handed, and some right-handed.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with problem solving. When we learn various methods to solve problems, they become a new kind of “handedness” and strongly influence how we proceed through the process of solving problems.

If you first learned to solve problems without strong record-keeping (Document or Die) you might find it slow and clumsy to force yourself to document your work. But if you learn to document your work early in the process (Do What You Wrote) you will find it crazy and horribly inaccurate to try to skip that step in your problem solving.

If you develop the skill of using and improving checklists, you will consistently turn out better designs, better products, and better processes. If you fall back on the excuse that you believe you have a good memory and won’t forget anything, you are likely to fail in spectacular fashion.

In summary, even if you find that a new problem-solving skill seems awkward or unnatural; please give yourself some time and practice to learn that new technique. After a little while, you might find that it feels more normal and works better than your previous methods.