I was working on a project the other day with a web application I hadn’t used much. And I spent a couple of hours really learning how it worked before I could actually approach the problem I was facing. In the end, I solved the problem and learned quite a lot. But perhaps even more importantly, today I had an epiphany about how I’d approached the work — about what I’d accidentally done very right.
As I read everything I could about the application, I began to feel overwhelmed by all of the information. I found it difficult to synthesize anything — all the facts started to swim before my eyes. Just when I felt most overwhelmed, I realized I had to go pick up my kids. I left the computer for about an hour, and though I thought about the problem off and on, I wasn’t concentrating on it.
But when I got back home, I sat down and methodically — and pretty quickly — worked right through to the solution. The strategy, and then the solution, just laid themselves out in front of me.
All three of those parts were very necessary, I realized today:
- Gathering information
- Working methodically
- And the accidental part: Stepping away from the problem
Often my work includes multi-day projects. When it does, I’m often naturally taking time in between information gathering and actual problem-solving. However, when you’re trying to work very quickly — on a deadline — it may seem a luxury to stop, rest and possibly re-think your approach. But I’ve found again and again that giving your brain time to accept the information results in a better outcome.
A semi-related thought: I often hear people say, “Oh, I’m not creative.” Just like in our society, it’s acceptable to say, “I’m bad at math.” I recently read an article [I think on Slate, but for the life of me, I can’t find the link now] talking about how ludicrous this is. Educated people would not sit around in business meetings and say, “Oh, I really can’t read.”
Well, same thing with creativity. Math? I’m great at math. I can read like a demon, too. Likewise, I’m creative. My creativity probably expresses itself in a different way than yours does. But there’s a way for all of us to be creative. Find your area and nuture it.