Frameworks for Problem-Solving (Part III)

The Shared-Brain Principle


This article is a continuation of “The Frameworks of Problem-Solving” series. The last article was on the Redundancy Principle.

The What

What is the shared-brain principle? The shared-brain principle posits that to solve complex problems, we need to build a shared brain amongst large communities of people. It can be done through sharing knowledge, and ideas in conferences, through books, research papers, etc.

Reasons: Why building a shared-brain works

Cross-Pollination Of Ideas: Building a shared brain results in the cross-pollination of ideas amongst different individuals and leads to creative solutions to ideas. This is analogous to how recombination of genes leads to a newer, stronger variety of genes; recombination of ideas results in the emergence of better, useful ideas (Reference).

Second View On A Problem (Removal Of Biases): While solving problems, we struggle with many different sorts of biases. One of the most common types of biases is the Confirmation Bias, where we adjust data to our thesis rather than going the other way round. Building a shared brain helps us get a second opinion on the problems we solve and can help remove these biases.

Multiplicity Of Experiences:

Experiences are worth their weight in gold, and are often more valuable than factual-knowledge.

Teams with higher diversity are usually much better at solving problems than those with similar views. The reason for this is straightforward. Different people with varied experiences can figure out different approaches to a problem. This is often not the case with people with a similar set of ideas. Research shows that diverse work groups produce more cognitive processing and more exchange of information. Diversity brings in new ideas and experiences, and people can learn from each other. (Reference). The results reveal that the presence of women on boards favorably influences on firm’s risk and performance through promoting a firm’s investment ineffectual social engagements and reporting on them. (Reference).


In Agriculture: Innovation in agriculture has been a team sport. This becomes apparently clear by the continuous improvements made by various teams across different geographies and time-zone in perfecting weed-resistant varieties of seeds. The famous Green Revolution in agriculture was made possible by Norman Borlaug's astonishing diligence, determination, and insights. However, to give credit to only Borlaug for the innovation will be a huge travesty, writes Matt Ridley in his latest book, How Innovation Works. He got the idea of short-strawed wheat varieties from Burton Bayles, who got it from Orville Vogel, who got it from Cecil Salmon, who got it from Gonjiro Inazuka. Borlaug shared the innovation with people like Manzoor Bajwa and M.S. Swaminathan, who then brought it to India and other Asian countries. This story is a perfect example of the collective intelligence of a species at work figuring out the many sub-parts of a problem.


In Maths: Fermat’s Last Theorem had been an open problem in Mathematics for a long period of time. It was first proposed by the French Mathematician Pierre De Fermat in the 17th Century and remained open till the late 20th century before being solved by a British Mathematician, Andrew Wiles. Andrew Wiles spent nearly six years in secrecy before coming out with a solution. However, crediting Andrew Wiles with the solution to the problem solely will not be right. There were several breakthroughs, and ideas that had to come in and be solved before Andrew Wiles could solve the problem. Some of the key steps were as follows:

  • Around 1955, Japanese mathematicians Goro Shimura and Yutaka Taniyama observed a possible link between two apparently completely distinct branches of mathematics, elliptic curves and modular forms. The resulting modularity theorem was eventually used by Andrew Wiles in his proof.
  • In 1984, Gerhard Frey noted a link between Fermat’s equation and the modularity theorem, then still a conjecture. This was a key intuition that helped in the eventuality of the proof.

In Nuclear Sciences

The Manhattan Project started in the United States Of America during World War II and is credited with modern-day nuclear warfare. Much of the work in the Manhattan Project was performed in Los Alamos, New Mexico, under the direction of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb.” However, as before, crediting Oppenheimer or Project Manhattan solely to create the atomic bomb will be a severe injustice to the science and the people behind it. It required the discovery by nuclear physicists in a laboratory in Berlin, Germany, in 1938 that made the first atomic bomb possible. This discovery was made after Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission. Possibly the theoretical foundations by laid down by the famous equation of Energy Mass Transmutation Equation laid down by Einstein (E = MC²). (Reference)

In Physics: In the world of physics, Albert Einstein is credited with the discovery of the General and Special Theory Of Relativity. However, the ideas of the theory weren’t developed by Einstein in isolation. The history of relativity consists of many theoretical results and empirical findings obtained by Albert A. Michelson, Hendrik Lorentz, Henri Poincaré, and others. Lorentz presented, in 1895, Maxwell’s electrodynamics wherein the speed of light is constant in all directions in the stationary aether and completely independent of the velocity of the source. It was used by Einstein as an axiom in his theory. Poincaré’s Science and Hypothesis, where Poincaré presented the Principle of Relativity, was another fundamental idea in Einstein’s theory of Relativity.

“There is no doubt, that the special theory of relativity, if we regard its development in retrospect, was ripe for discovery in 1905. Lorentz had already recognized that the transformations named after him are essential for the analysis of Maxwell’s equations, and Poincaré deepened this insight still further.”

This is a quote from Einstein that talks about the influences that other theories have on his thinking.



From the aforementioned examples, it is clear that complex problems require a multiplicity of ideas, brains, and individuals to come together to solve problems. It has been oft-repeated in our history of human civilization that when collective intelligence is at play, major breakthroughs are made in different fields ranging from Physics, Mathematics, to Agriculture.

Let’s stand on the shoulder of giants to make progress.

About Ravi

Ravi is a poet, innovator, and entrepreneur. Ravi got a degree from IIT and Princeton University and lived in Bangalore and California, working at various software startups. He is the author of Be Buddha and regularly blogs at Ravi’s Blog.



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Ravi Tandon

Ravi Tandon

Entrepreneur, software engineer, and author. Top writer in Startup. My books and writings: