Heuristics: Solving Problems Rapidly, Michael Bolton

I haven't had a chance to update with any more blog posts until now, but I'm sitting here enjoying the EuroSTAR Testing Quiz and trying to write a blog post at the same time, so if it seems a bit scattered I apologise!

This was a workshop run by Michael Bolton. It's hard to convey a workshop as part of the point is being there, but I would recommend attending this if you get the opportunity. Michael spent the first part of the workshop discussing heuristics, and then ran an exercise with us which a) brought out a lot of interesting heuristic examples, and b) got us all talking. It's a good thing that the session was just before lunch, because people stayed around talking for most of the lunch hour afterwards.

So what did I learn from it?

It's useful to make use of those "hunches" or emotional reactions - they may be telling you something useful. But personally, I also found that it was very valuable to verbalise my own personal heuristics. If I'm not aware of the heuristics I'm using, then I can't take into account whether they're actually appropriate for the circumstances - which given that one of the key points was that heuristics are FALLIBLE, I think is important.

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Comment by Michael Bolton on December 4, 2008 at 20:05
Hi, Anna and Simon (and lurkers)...

I'd like to respond to Simon's implicit question: what is a heuristic. A heuristic is a fallible method for solving a problem or making a decision. It's pretty much as simple as that. Some people informally equate "heuristic" and "rule of thumb". A heuristic is a method for doing something, such that the method isn't guaranteed to work. Contrast that with "algorithm", which is a step-by-step recipe for solving a particular problem with given inputs in a given context.

I think some people might get hung up on trying to impart more meaning to the word than is there. Don't fall into that trap!

Another characteristic of a heuristic is that helps us to learn something. The word "heuristic" comes from the same root as "Eureka!" ("I've discovered it!")

Hope this helps,

---Michael B.
Comment by Anna Baik on November 16, 2008 at 19:21
Thanks for the link Simon!
Comment by Simon Godfrey on November 13, 2008 at 13:11
Comment by Simon Godfrey on November 13, 2008 at 8:23
Hi Anna, I thought that'd be a useful session to attend. I've spoken to Michael, and read up on, Heuristics previously and they're certainly useful once you understand what they are. I must admit I'm still working on that! They're covered in the AST BBST course as well under "heuristic oracles" and how we understand if a test is a success or a fail. All very interesting stuff.

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