The Power of Incentives and the Art of Problem Solving in Achieving Goals

Aviral Vaid

Hatched by Aviral Vaid

Apr 13, 2024

3 min read


The Power of Incentives and the Art of Problem Solving in Achieving Goals


In a world filled with complexities and uncertainties, incentives serve as a powerful force that drives human behavior. While people may not have the ability to calculate every aspect of the world, they rely on stories and simplified narratives to make sense of it all. These narratives shape their views and actions, with cultural and tribal incentives often being more influential than financial ones. It is essential to question how our perspectives would change if our incentives were different.

The Role of Mental Representations in Problem Solving:

Experts are distinguished from novices by their ability to create better mental representations. By encouraging individuals to think beyond a single solution, they can tap into a broader range of possibilities. This is exemplified by Ericsson's exercise, where participants were asked to identify something they desired in their lives. However, instead of stopping there, they were prompted to consider the underlying benefits and explore alternative ways to achieve them. This approach disrupts fixation on a single solution and encourages expansive thinking.

The Art of Problem Solving:

According to Jonassen, ill-structured problems are those with multiple solutions, where there are no right or wrong answers, only better or worse ones. To effectively solve such problems, one must begin by defining the goal and constraints. This initial step sets the foundation for exploring potential solutions. Similarly, in product discovery, a clear desired outcome is crucial. By understanding the end goal, product teams can navigate the problem space more effectively.

Connecting Incentives and Problem Solving:

Incentives play a significant role in problem-solving processes. When individuals are driven by cultural or tribal incentives, their problem-solving approaches may be influenced by the desire to conform or maintain social connections. This can lead to both positive and negative outcomes, as people may be incentivized to engage in behaviors that seem irrational from an outsider's perspective. Understanding the incentives at play is essential in comprehending why certain choices are made and how they can impact problem-solving strategies.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Reflect on Your Incentives: Take a moment to consider the incentives that shape your beliefs and actions. Ask yourself, "Which of my current views would change if my incentives were different?" This exercise helps uncover hidden motivations and allows for a deeper understanding of personal biases.
  • 2. Embrace Diverse Perspectives: When confronted with a problem, challenge yourself to think beyond the obvious solutions. Use techniques like Ericsson's approach, where you consider the underlying benefits of your desired outcome and explore alternative ways to achieve them. This expands your problem-solving repertoire and encourages innovation.
  • 3. Define Clear Desired Outcomes: Whether you are working on a personal goal or a team project, start by clearly defining the desired outcome. By understanding what you want to achieve, you can navigate the problem space more effectively and make informed decisions throughout the process.


Incentives are a powerful force that shapes human behavior and influences problem-solving strategies. By understanding the role of incentives and embracing diverse perspectives, we can enhance our problem-solving abilities and achieve better outcomes. Reflecting on our own incentives and defining clear desired outcomes are actionable steps towards becoming more effective problem solvers. In a world filled with complexities, it is through the power of incentives and the art of problem solving that we can navigate the challenges and achieve our goals.

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