One of the most important skills in mathematical problem solving is the ability to generalize. A given problem, such as the integral we just computed, may appear to be intractable on its own. However, by stepping back and considering the problem not in isolation but as an individual member of an entire class of related problems, we can discern facts that were previously hidden from us. Trying to compute the integral for the particular value a = 1 was too difficult, so instead we calculated the value of the integral for every possibly value of a. Paradoxically, there are many situations where it is actually easier to solve a general problem than it is to solve a specific.
Richard Feynman’s integral trick