Tip: Cracking the Tough Creative Problems

When I was a young and excitable animator, I used to bury myself in my animation problems for an entire day – only to find out the next morning, that the problem is so easy it almost solves itself.

You know these difficult problems we get stuck on? If you’re a creative person, you regularly bump into them. That’s because problems-solving is an integral part of the creative process (my anatomy and drawing mentor, Mr. Oswald Adler, used to talk about life drawing in terms of “solving” body parts. For him, the entire process of drawing was like solving a complex riddle, the solution of which was a good drawing. I think it’s a rather excellent way of looking at it).

Here’s a tip for solving particularly difficult creative problems:

Step 1: Think Hard. Take an hour or two, focus on your problem and make a real effort to solve it.

Step 2: Let go. Still struggling? Let it go. Go for a long walk, watch TV, go home and enjoy some quality time with your significant other. Make a point of disconnecting yourself from the problem. Think of other things. Absurdly, you actually have a better chance of solving it when you stop trying to.

Why does it work?

Not much of a mystery, really. The mechanism at work here is quite simple.

When you focus on your problem, by definition of the word ‘focus’ you make an effort not to let anything else get into your brain. It so happens that when we’ve been focused on a problem for a while, our brain continues to be highly tuned and sensitive to everything that might be connected to it. So now that you’re letting your brain wonder freely, some stray piece of information or a strange association may suddenly connect. That out-of-the-blue connection creates a chain reaction of thoughts (sometimes completely subconscious!) that could end with a solution to your problem. That’s what happened to Archimedes a moment before he cried “Eureka!” and jumped out of his bathtub.

Indeed, the shower is well-known as a good place for surprising solutions. Another good let-go is taking a walk. In both cases you’re forcing yourself to completely change environment and rhythm, which really helps the brain de-focus and allow stray thoughts.

Successful creative companies such as Google and Pixar tap into the power of thinking hard and then letting go, by setting up special areas in which employees can use advanced problem-solving machines such as: a pool table, wall climbing and themed hangout areas.

Go home early!

When I was a young and determined animator, I used to bury myself in my animation problems for an entire day – only to find out the next morning, that the problem is so easy it almost solves itself. I’m a little smarter now: when I find myself struggling, I don’t try and muscle it by working late. Rather, I go home early. I know that with a bit less focus and more freedom, my brain is sure to come up with something good.

google office5 Tip: think hard, then let go

google office9 Tip: think hard, then let go


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