Creative Process: Problem Solving

01 Jun

There is a Chinese saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”  When it comes to problem solving, there is a condition of readiness that is a necessary component to arriving at a solution.  Generally speaking, our Composer of Music for Art goes through several stages, sometimes more quickly than other times, with respect to her process with problem solving.

Stage 1: confusion

This is her state of mind upon initially confronting a problem.  It is the initial response to something new – be it a new concept or a new roadblock.  She has not begun to process or sort out the issues – she is just in a raw state of new awareness that something hard is in her face that was not in her face a minute ago.

Stage 2: emotional responses

Next comes her range of emotional responses – anger, frustration, depression, hopelessness, despair.  In the wisdom accumulated over the years, our Composer has learned to sit with these feelings, to acknowledge and accept them, and work through them, even to tap into the potential productive energy made available by them.

This is an interesting notion.  Sometimes, for example, she has discovered that there is a unique kind of focus available to her when she is in a condition of deep depression.  She has become so disinterested in everything – people, activity, and so on – that her mind is in fact quite free to focus in a burning, laser-like way on a single issue at hand.  Her level of despair in fact makes her open to facing the reality of a solution which may be difficult, may require time and sacrifice.  Out of her hopelessness emerges a willingness to step into new worlds that she has been avoiding until now.

Tapping into hard emotions to this degree is pretty challenging.  More typical would be sitting with the emotions until they subside sufficiently to allow for some rational thinking to kick in.

Stage 2: Rational Thinking

Our girl has taken the necessary time for slow breathing and mourning her setback, and is ready to start sorting things out.  At this point, some real problem solving begins.  She tests all the variables to narrow down the issue as much as possible.  then she begins exploring the various options, trying to determine the most elegant and efficient solution to the (hopefully) correctly identified issue.

The process of testing variables to get to the essence of the problem is critical and not always easy. There is a lot of internal and external “noise” to deal with, for example.  In researching her issues online, she comes across lots of forum threads that touch on her problem, but generally are not directly on-point.  So she has to sort out the “noise” of unrelated material and glean what is a meaningful solution piece for her own problem puzzle.  Internal “noise” is the mental drumbeat of negativity, louder in some than others – to the effect of “I won’t ever figure this out” or “This is way too hard” or “Why am I cursed like this”.

Step 4: Solution Acceptance

As often as not, the “solution” is not perfect, or expected.  The “solution” might mean giving up on something, doing an end run, making a compromise, either temporary or permanent.  The solution might require a lot of patience, a recognition that substantial time will be necessary to get at the sweet spot.  Or on the other hand, the solution might require putting everything else aside – day job, creative projects, personal needs – to drive to the end and make things work.

It takes honesty, patience, a calm head, to correctly evaluate when to go into high gear and when to back off, to focus on other things, to allow a solution to gestate.

This morning our Composer for Art has decided that she must press forward with a solution to the audio failure in her website on the Firefox browser.  She must have a fully functional website so she can present audio to new artists and have the best shot at making a good impression on winning more content for her site.  She has decided to make things work today.  But the resolution of this morning comes after several weeks of patiently allowing the condition of a tough problem to gestate, to be balanced with other important issues.  So she does not make this decision impulsively, compulsively, but after allowing some time to pass.

This takes us all the way back to the concept of readiness.  There is a mental processing of the problem that sometimes takes longer than other times.  As you gain experience in this processing of a problem, of movement through the various stages outlined above, you will better identify the moment when you can move aggressively forward with discovery and implementation of a solution.  And you can be confident that you will arrive at that solution – and be rewarded with surprising movement forward in your creative work.

spark on


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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in creative process


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