No matter the problem, Shannon said, "cut it down to size." Shannon admitted that this process could file a problem down to almost nothing, but that was precisely the point: "You may have simplified it to a point that it doesn't even resemble the problem that you started with; but very often if you can solve this simple problem, you can add refinements to the solution of this until you get back to the solution of the one you started with." Bob Gallager, a Shannon graduate student who went on to become a leading information theorist himself, saw this process of radical simplification in action.He describes coming to Shannon's office one day with a new research idea full of "bells and whistles." For Shannon, though, bells and whistles were just a distraction and he proceeded to take the problem apart piece by piece. At a certain point, I was getting upset, because I saw this neat research problem of mine had become almost trivial.As Gallager said: "He looked at it, sort of puzzled, and said, 'Well, do you really need this assumption? But at a certain point, with all these pieces stripped out, we both saw how to solve it."Genius is rarely able to give an account of its own processes," the philosopher George Henry Lewes once observed. Even when it comes to the most basic everyday tasks — making a pot of coffee, parallel parking, or folding the laundry — it's one thing to do them; it's something else entirely to shut off the force of habit and explain, step-by-step, how you are doing them.And if this is the case for some of the simplest human activities, it's far more true for the most complex ones — writing symphonies and novels, developing new technologies, inventing new scientific paradigms.Shannon was speaking to an audience of engineers, but we've found his problem-solving methods remarkably flexible across a whole range of fields and refreshingly accessible to all of us non-geniuses, too.Because what Shannon describes isn't the glittering end product of his mental efforts, it's the process he takes to get there, one that doesn't require an excess of IQ points to use.Addressing climate change through engineering innovation. Six of the 10 cities with the largest annual flood costs by 2050 are in India and China. Improving our health and well-being through life sciences, nanotechnology & bio-engineering.Administration on Aging, by 2060 the population of Americans aged 65 and older will have more than doubled in size from 2011.Geniuses are rarely the best teachers, the best critics, or the best explainers.So it's rare to come across a genius's account of "how genius works." But such accounts do exist, and we were lucky enough to unearth one near the end of our research into the life of Claude Shannon (1916-2001), the intellectual architect of the information age.