Wednesday, February 13, 2013

3 Keys...

To Creative Problem Solving  

Whenever I'm trying to solve a problem, especially a creative one, I've found three things to be key: 

1. Keep the pressure on it. 

2. Take breaks from it. 

3. Find a balance between 1. and 2.

"Keep the pressure on it." 

By this I mean I keep the problem on my mind. I keep it on my plate. I sit down and think about it. I try to figure it out. I sort out my options. I try on hypetheticals. I sort out any emotions I may have about it. I let my brain know that I mean business and mean to solve this thing and I won't stop trying until I do.

"Take breaks from it." 

By this I mean I don't hammer away at a problem for hours that isn't yielding. I take breaks. I go for a walk. I set it aside for a day. I take up another task if possible. I watch TV or go to a movie. I clear my head. 

"Find a balance between 1. and 2." 

By this I mean I figure out when to take those breaks, but I find a way to keep the pressure on while I take those breaks. Waiting until the moment of absolute exasperation to take a break is sometimes the thing to do, but not generally. Usually, I just get this feeling that further pressure will not help right now. When I get that feeling, I know it's time for a break. But...while I take that break, I don't forget about the problem entirely. I don't "push it out of my mind". I keep it on the back burner and keep an awareness of its existence firmly in my consciousness. When I feel looser, relaxed and more open, I return to the problem and resume working on it directly.  

A typical sequence might look something like this: 

I'm working on the lyrics for a song. I started with just a line or a vague idea but now it's coming together. Verses are starting to emerge, the idea for the chorus is clear, my rhyme scheme is getting established. But with two thirds of the thing complete I hit a wall, or sometimes two. I need to say "X" but I need to do it with "Y" number of syllables and I need it to end with a word that rhymes with "Z". I might have only one of this type of problem in a given song or I might have several. Usually I focus on solving them one at a time, but sometimes skipping around can help.    

So, in keeping with the above mentioned keys, I will look at what I want to say and be sure I actually do want to say that. Is there some other angle that might work better? What is the core meaning I want to communicate? The number of syllables is fairly static, it's based on the rhythm of the song, but I ask myself, Can I vary this? Is there room for another approach that will free up more creative space? As for the rhyme, I think about all the possible words that will fit my rhyme scheme and see if any of them will say what I want to say. I might look in a rhyming dictionary, or I might examine and write down all the near or close rhymes I can think of. I might see if there's a way to end a line with a multi-syllable word, the first of which rhymes and the rest of which start the next line. It's like a word "sudoku" puzzle. I'm trying to make the pieces fit and still say what I want to say. I will keep this problem in my mind and apply pressure to it. I might be thinking about my options while I'm waiting for sleep to come. I might think about them while I'm walking to work. I might sit down for a brainstorming session where that's all I do.   

And then when I can't make any more progress and I get that "done" feeling, I set it aside. I keep it there at the edge of my thoughts but I focus on other things. And then often, after giving it a rest, I'll pull out those lyrics and bam! the first thing that pops into my mind is the solution I've been looking for.  

I think this is because my creative intuitive unconscious mind is sort of like a sub-person. It doesn't want to be micro-managed anymore than I do. It has its own ways and means and sometimes it needs to do its work in private. I give it goals (1. Putting the pressure on) but I leave it space to sort things out on its own (2. Taking breaks). But, and this is important, I don't leave it totally alone. Like any employee, its work need to be checked up on and monitored (Finding a balance between 1. and 2.). 

This is just a theory. The process is actually quite mysterious to me. I don't really know why the above method works for me, but it does. 

The unforced life, for me, means finding a balance between effort and receptivity, between the yang and the yin. When the right balance happens the answers just seem to come. 

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