Post No.: 0154
When presented with a problem, too many people naturally try to push a premature solution that they had thought of, then end up defending it from all attackers and hanging onto ‘their baby’ for dear life – thus potentially wasting each other’s time and effort in stubborn debate and deadlock! We are better off trying to understand the problem space more clearly and comprehensively first (e.g. asking questions about which stakeholders are involved, the conflicts of interests and dilemmas, breaking problems down to their root(s) and generally asking more questions rather than presuming their answers). We are also typically better off being constructive rather than adversarial, and better off exploring all potential solutions, before trying to come up with any firm single answer.
In general, realise there’s a problem first or select your goal, then assess your options, decide on your option(s), act on your option(s), and review their outcomes – then continually repeat this cycle if you want to generate constant improvement.
A tip if you’re struggling for ideas is to first prime your mind with the problem, keeping it hovering at the back of your mind gently, then giving your unconscious the time and freedom to wander far and wide for possible solutions and opportunities whenever and wherever they arise. It’s about being mindful of the problem without trying too hard. So relax and sometimes you’ll see more.
Note that this is not about lazily thinking that you can do nothing whatsoever or think of whatever you like and a ‘eureka!’ moment will just magically come! The Greek scientist Archimedes was consciously and constantly submerged (pun intended!) in a mindset and environment of mathematical and physical problems when he ‘out of the blue’ figured out a solution to measuring the volumes of objects. He didn’t spend the bulk of his time playing Call of Duty. (He only played for a couple of hours a day tops. ) ‘Out of the blue’ ideas that seem to come from one’s unconscious require a lot of conscious effort and information to feed one’s unconscious first. This tip is about letting the unconscious mind mull over a problem with a mind that has been prepared to look for a solution to that problem, along with being consciously fed with a lot of research and inspiration that might help. This technique might not help if you’re under a tight deadline though because an idea might come or not come, and it might come today or some other day, because you cannot force it.
So try hard and work on your problem with a lot of conscious effort first of all to see if an idea comes more quickly – but if you get stuck then relax the conscious effort for a bit and open up to unusual and diverse ideas and abstract concepts outside of the narrow and direct focus on the problem, whilst engaging yourself with novel sources of information and experiences (e.g. take a walk somewhere different, explore other subjects that might be somewhat related). Your conscious mind may be holding a lot of preconceptions that are making your conscious search for new ideas difficult, hence a relaxed mind that less likely censors possible concept combinations prematurely may find novel ideas that eventually bubble into your conscious awareness.
Look at problems from different perspectives, angles, focuses and distances. One perspective will only give you a partial picture so take on as many alternative and opposing perspectives as you can. Don’t be trapped by assumptions or preconceptions – open your mind to diverse views and twist and turn the world upside-down or back-to-front constantly. At least in the context of problem solving and creativity – intentionally non-conform. When everyone else is looking at the world in a typical way, take an original and unorthodox stance. Don’t run with the crowd but travel down the road less travelled. Don’t always accept the first viewpoint. Don’t be trapped by only what’s in front of you right now or your past experiences. No idea is rubbish at this early stage so just keep producing, even if you think you’ve found the answer. Sidestep the obvious, rephrase the problem (sometimes asking a different question will produce the right answer), use novel analogies and ‘avoid the centre of the sandpit’ by digging at the edges instead. Most of all, it’s about seeing the world as if for the very first time – like a child.
How would an idiot, artist, chef, accountant, famous person, musician, another animal, etc. approach the problem? Can you change the problem to fit your solutions? What are the complete opposites of your ideas so far? Look closely and in detail, then at the bigger and broader picture. Think of how everything fits together and where. Ask where it’s all heading and ask what’s the point? Look at, and for, causes and solutions at every level (e.g. the family, community, national, global, the gatekeepers, all stakeholders) i.e. not just at individuals but the culture, community, context and whole ecology. Is it them who need to change or would it be easier and/or more effective for us to change instead? The world is often ambiguous. There isn’t always one correct answer so be flexible and tolerant.
Reframe problems. For example, regarding keeping warm in the home – we’re not really interested in heating spaces, such as behind the TV, in the corner of the room where nothing is and where no one goes, the ceiling level, etc. – we’re interested in heating our own bodies. Try to boil down to the root of what you really want solving and don’t prejudge solutions based on what already exists.
Punctuate periods of serious effort with levity. Occasionally ease the pressure because when we feel stress we tend to miss the bigger picture (during a ‘fight or flight’ response, our minds are only concerned about our immediate survival and not the bigger picture). A mind at ease is often the most creative. Creativity is arguably about making unexpected connections between distant concepts not previously perceived to have any relationship before. Creativity is also about having fun so don’t take it too seriously! Don’t take yourself too seriously. Mess around for a moment, smile and laugh. Be playful or simply loosen up to see some new enlightening and mind-freeing perspectives. Take a break to step back from it all if you get stuck in a rut. Doing something mentally menial (e.g. chores or exercising) is actually better than doing completely nothing.
Your attention responds to change. Everyday, repeated things become assumed; familiarity breeds mindlessness and ‘automatic’ behaviour – you stop thinking and you go from manual to autopilot. If you keep on doing things as you’ve always done before then all you’ll likely get is what you’ve already got! So be more ‘mindful’ – pay attention to the present and to your current surroundings rather than thinking and behaving in autopilot, and be open to change and novelty.
So see beyond the obvious and query routines. Shake your life up now and again. Break existing habits and habitats, at least temporarily. Query ‘what if…’ with what you’re doing. Do things you’ve never done before. Wake up your brain by switching from autopilot to manual. Remain curious. Take note of and examine more closely the unexpected. Look at the ordinary in extraordinary ways. Perceive each present moment with awe. Be more curious when you encounter something unusual and surprising; question and investigate it rather than pass on by. Let the unusualness add wonder and vibrancy into your life. Look for the unusual and try to understand it. See rather than assume, question rather than accept. Look at things in a new light. Approach every new person as a new individual. And again – imagine that you are looking at the world for the very first and only time, and question things like a child does (e.g. what is that? Why is that like that?)
There is no magic formula to solving problems, otherwise we’d have solved all of the world’s problems by now(!) But the above tips may give you some new ways of thinking that may then help you to come up with what you’re looking for. Some techniques contradict each other because we are trying to approach problems in different ways in order to generate as many ideas as possible. Sometimes we need quantity before we can sort out what’s quality – so don’t snuff your, or other people’s, ideas out too prematurely.
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