Creative Process: Problem Solving

24 Feb

It is natural and expected to feel frustration when we hit road blocks in our creative work.  We think “if only I could get past this problem, I could move forward with this project.”

It may be possible and helpful to recognize problem solving as vital, consequential creative activity in its own right.  We may come to appreciate the “roadblocks” as “signposts” directing us to most efficient paths forward.  Bottom line – engaging positively in a creative problem solving process is moving you forward big time.  This article relates a few bits of personal experience with respect to maximizing the benefits and minimizing the pain involved with your creative problem solving process.

My work is creating audio and presenting that audio with art on a website.  The problem I’ve been working on is a weakness in my current mediaplayer – a lack of volume control.  The solution turns out to be updating to a different mediaplayer.  Of course the devil is in the details with respect to that solution, and I am still chipping away.

My process with respect to this problem has revealed some helpful information:

1) not everyone wants audio to play automatically – mediaplayer control availability is a matter of respect to my audience;

2) a little knowledge of HTML goes a long way in terms of the current mediaplayer problem and in terms of overall design flexibility during this developmental phase of my website;

3) Implementation of a partial solution is acceptable, as there is incremental improvement in website performance, with no redundancy involved in final, full solution implementation;

Accepting Partial Solutions

There is an ancient Chinese proverb: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”  It is all about readiness.  Solutions are not always easy.  Learning is often involved.  Wrestling with ego is often involved.  Taking painful little baby steps is often involved.  A little bit of self-knowledge in this department is helpful.  Happily, on  most days, we are ready to tackle something!  It may not be what we think we need to get fixed that day – but as that old Rolling Stones song goes “You can’t always get what you want. . . but . . . you get what you need.”  My belief is that, especially as artists, we are partners with G-d in the continuing work of creation.  There are parallel realities – the reality of our freewill and the reality of G-d “directing the footsteps of man.”  Bottom line here – you will be happier if you go with the flow and tackle what you obviously can tackle on any given day.

Nevertheless, you may arrive at a point in your problem solving process where you are out of gas, or other issues have become pressing, even as you have not yet arrived at a full solution.  At this point it might be helpful to step back and evaluate what you have achieved – determine if you can apply your partial solution.  Review what you have learned and determine what you can carry forward right now.

In the case of my little audio upgrade struggle, I successfully arrived at a partial solution: full HTML5 control of audio available on my feature pages, but not quite ready for prime time on my art browsing pages.  With respect to the browsing pages, I don’t have flexibility yet with respect to mediaplayer control availability for my audience and I don’t have functionality across all web browsers.

But because I have a complete solution for my feature pages, and because I have run out of gas with respect to researching this problem, it is worth my while to implement HTML5 on my feature pages.  I have improved my site incrementally and there is no redundancy with respect to implementing the final solution on browsing pages.  The unexpected effect of this partial implementation of HTML5 is that the music will play more softly on the browsing pages than on the feature pages.  And in fact this may turn out to be a desirable thing for my audience – something I might want to hold onto in the final implementation.

One Man’s Creative Problem Solving Process

1) Readiness – In the case of my mediaplayer dilemna, I needed to arrive at a point of readiness with respect to confronting HTML5.  I needed to decide if I was going to learn some coding, or fold here, rely exclusively on plug-ins and, ultimately, outside assistance with respect to development of the audio presentation.  Given that I have a tiny bit of programming background, and given my recognition of the flexibility a little HTML programming ability would afford me with the website, I finally bit the bullet and accepted the fact that I would spend a little bit of time pouring over HTML5 audio code on the web.

2) The Eyes Glazing Over Phase: I am discovering a lot of possible solutions.  I am trying out a little code.  Some things are working a little, some not at all.  I am not ready to focus sufficiently on the nitty gritty details of the code to get it working yet.  I am focusing on what my approach will be – what the design will be – the conceptual work.

3) Digging In : Finally, I am slowing my brain down enough to dig in to the details necessary to implement a coding solution.

4) Accepting the Partial Solution and Acknowledging the Learning: I am accepting that my patience for this problem has temporarily worn a bit thin, that I have a partial solution that can be implemented to the benefit of the website without any redundancy when I finish the solution.  I learned some coding and have some additional flexibility that I can carry with me now into another area of development on my website.

Your problem solving process, of course, may be completely different.  You may benefit from building awareness and acceptance with respect to your readiness at any given time to tackle a problem solving task.  You may benefit additionally from finding ways to acknowledge and value partial solutions, to identify points of “diminishing returns” in your work, when the best next move is to another problem altogether.

Spark on.


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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in creative process


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