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robmandu's avatar

Is there a name for the technique that House uses to solve problems?

Asked by robmandu (21285points) May 28th, 2008

On the TV show House, Dr. House has three full doctors on his team (four, if you count Foreman). When diagnosing problems, House runs the show, taking input from his team members, and figuring out on his own. About 40 minutes into any given episode, House then has an epiphany and cures the patient (usually).

He has explained on the show itself that he needs the team to act as a lens for his thoughts and allow his mind to get to the crux of the problem on its own.

I find I work the same way. When presented with a vexing problem, I’ll often get stumped if working solo. But if I call up someone and just talk thru the issue – sometimes with feedback, but usually not – then I can solve it on my own. I get that same epiphany.

Is there a name for that kind of problem solving technique?

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13 Answers

wildflower's avatar

Did you solve it by writing it out?
If not, it may be a case of using the rubber ducking approach….
I don’t actually know a word for this problem solving technique. Maybe you should document it and call it the solo-brainstorming approach

robmandu's avatar

I think that might be it! Neat that it was discussed in The Pragmatic Programmer book. I’ll hafta check that out more closely.


Unfortunately, how can anyone take a concept named “Rubber Ducking Approach” seriously? I guess it’s named after Ernie talking to his rubber duckie in the bathtub?

wildflower's avatar

My ‘rubber duck’ is one of these standing on one of these – it’s really very understanding and helpful (and sometimes the devil troll tells me what to do).

robmandu's avatar


On my desk, the closest thing I have to use for that would be my Mug of vi. Maybe I could paint a face on it somewheres.

wildflower's avatar

Are you sure we don’t work in the same office? I’m sure I’ve seen people with similar things here…..I just have my Bon Jovi mug and my Fish! mug (that wasn’t a total waste of perfectly good work hours at all!)

ljs22's avatar

House uses the Socratic method. Also, a little trivia: the show concept is based on Sherlock Holmes.

shilolo's avatar

House’s method is not one that is ever used in real world medicine. They sometimes do brainstorm to generate a differential diagnosis (a list of possible diseases), but after that, its all downhill. House picks one disease, they treat it, the treatment fails (something horribly wrong happens), then he picks another one, and another one, and another one until eventually he “gets it right”. This would never, ever happen in the real world.

Other pet peeves about the show:
From my nursing friends: The young docs are frequently doing the nurses’ jobs. This never happens.
Medical: His team does every procedure themselves. Again, in a real tertiary care hospital, you have to call the cardiologist to do a cath, the radiologist to run an MRI, the pathologist to look at the tissue, etc. etc.
Ethical: House probably violates 20–30 ethical rules on every show. I think his most common violation is doing tests and procedures on people without their consent.

All in the name of drama.

wildflower's avatar

That’s what’s so great about drama. Especially the ethic rules violation thingy. If I could, I’d totally manage my team like Gibbs from NCIS, but alas, that is not permitted..

shilolo's avatar

Maybe thats true, but for a lot of people, ER, Scrubs and House are their “window” into medicine. I understand that no one would want to watch a show where a doctor rounds on 20 hospitalized patients, all while answering pages, talking to other staff, writing notes, following up on tests, etc. But, I get the impression that some people really believe that House-type stuff regularly goes on, and then develop negative opinions about medicine.

When I ran medical teams (like House), we certainly discussed patients, generated ideas and made coherent plans, but there was none of the browbeating and gross ethical violations (or I would be out of a job).

wildflower's avatar

(knock on wood) I haven’t been in hospital for more than emergency and tests since I was 12, but I don’t recall the doctors being even nearly as entertaining as JD and Turk – so I’m under no illusion – unfortunately :(

shilolo's avatar

You never met me and my buddies… Besides, they entertain as much because of their screw ups and relationship gaffes as anything else. I wouldn’t want to make 1% of the medical mistakes they make (for laughs).

robmandu's avatar

@ljs22, I think I see your point about the Socratic method… and I agree that that would seem to be what the team does when they sit around the conference table and whiteboard symptoms.

But I think that’s just one step along the way. That is, I think House uses the Socratic method as one element of his Rubber Ducking approach. Usually, he gets his epiphany in a very solitary way. And that answer is not something he had typically formulated for discussion earlier in the show. Usually, he needn’t even defend his epiphany (via Socratic method) in the context of the show. Instead he just marches into patient’s room and pinches them/cuts off a foot/injects normally poisonous material/whatever and saves the day.

Still, excellent point and indeed, the Socratic method can be a valuable tool.

Fallenangel's avatar

i know exactly what method he uses

its called “being on tv”

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