Rethinking the Problem

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The Penrose Stairs. Every corner is the both the top AND bottom. Artwork by kitkat93 at Deviant Art.
The Penrose Stairs. Every corner is both the top AND bottom. Artwork by kitkat93 at Deviant Art.

Because I’m keeping myself really busy with life problems, the holidays and self-imposed chores related to a business start-up, I’m worse than ever at keeping a queue of writing topics.

I have decided to try a Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule after my nearly daily posting fizzled out early this year.

It’s Wednesday. I want to write. And I’m drawing a blank.

It would be easy to just move on. But I want to be the kind of person that accomplishes goals even when they’re hard.

But how?

Finding a Different Angle

I took my son to see Big Hero 6 last weekend. I went to see Interstellar on Monday. And I saw this from the marketing world’s thought leader this morning.

My takeaway from all three experiences was a fervent desire to be the kind of problem solver that can approach obstacles from a totally unique point of view and find workarounds no matter the odds.

It’s hard to keep going even when it’s hard. Really hard.

We have trouble fighting for our relationships when it’s hard. It’s easier to quit.

Shouldn’t being in love be easy!?!?

We’d all like that. But I think it’s probably exactly as it’s supposed to be. Our muscles only get stronger when we work them hard. Our minds only get sharper when we work them hard. Our resolve only escalates when we overcome emotional adversity.

Maybe love is exactly as it should be. Challenging and messy. So only the few, the proud and the strong are rewarded with its infinite beauty after walking the walk heroically.

We have trouble trying to master new skills when it’s hard. It’s easier to quit.

I had this fantasy about being a good guitar player one day. I love music and thought (knew) girls would dig me more if I played.

I bought an acoustic guitar. I was gifted a nice Fender Stratocaster electric guitar for my 16th birthday. My parents couldn’t afford guitar lessons, but I went to the music store and acquired all the Learn How to Play the Guitar materials I could find.

My fingers hurt trying to learn how to hold the strings in place and I found chord transitions nearly impossible. So I quit and never picked up a guitar again.

I sometimes wonder if that same weakness is the reason I got divorced.

We have trouble developing good habits and routines when it’s hard. It’s easier to keep our lazy bad habits.

We have trouble committing to, and following through on, working out and healthy eating. We have trouble reading all the books on our bookshelf. We have trouble breaking unhealthy spending habits.

Even though it can’t possibly be that hard to quit (I did for a couple years in my early 20s), and even though it’s totally disgusting, I bite my fingernails all the time.

Why don’t I stop?

Maybe because it’s easier to just keep doing it.

In Big Hero 6, a young genius is tasked with wowing a crowd of geniuses at a robotics convention. He has to learn how to approach problems from new angles, ask new questions, discover better angles.

In Interstellar, an aeronautical engineer is tasked with traversing the universe in search of a habitable planet for humans.

This morning, Seth Godin wrote about redefining rules and boundaries to come up with creative solutions.

It reads:

“The thing about a clean sheet of paper

… is that it still has edges.

It’s tempting to believe that creativity comes from starting fresh. But even when we start fresh, we approach projects and problems with self-created boundaries.

You can’t do real work without edges, without something to leverage, but those edges don’t have to be the same edges as everyone else uses.

Creative people often excel because they change the shape of the clean sheet.”

Have Crazy Idea Sex All the Time

My favorite writer James Altucher is constantly reminding us to train our minds to become “idea machines.” He insists the part of our brain that generates new ideas is like a muscle, and that with regular work, you strengthen this muscle and new idea generation becomes easy and routine.

How do you become an Idea Machine?

He says you write down 10 ideas a day. Every day. And after six months, you’ll strengthen this muscle enough to be constantly churning out new, creative solutions to problems, big and small.

You can have ideas about anything.

How to build a gas pump that will pump fuel twice as fast.

How to make the world’s greatest pizza crust.

How to encourage robust economic development in rural towns.

Whatever. There are no limits to the topics that could benefit from new ideas. If you write down 10 ideas a day (even the bad ones!) for an entire year, you will have 3,650 new ideas.

Altucher says you can bank on at least a few of those being the kind of ideas that can turn into legitimate business ideas, or useful life hacks that can radically transform your life, or the lives of others.

Furthermore, there are endless possibilities of combining these ideas. Idea sex!

Endless possibilities make my heart race. Endless possibilities prevent boredom, which murders the little explorer that lives in our hearts and souls.

We were made to explore and discover and create and build. These are the things behind every great human achievement since forever.

I haven’t perfected the (very challenging) task of generating new ideas every day.

But I believe in it. That new ideas—new good ideas that change lives, whether it’s just one life or many—are our most-precious resource.

We forget to think.

It’s because we get so busy stressing about all the things that don’t really matter because we’re all going to be dead someday, and because we watch sitcoms and reality TV, and because we eat McDonald’s and Cool Ranch Doritos.

We get so caught up in the routines of our lives and intimidated by the boundaries we create for ourselves that we totally forget we can build rockets and fly into outer space because there are almost no unsolvable problems.

Anything that looks like one just means we need to turn the problem around and upside down and find a new way to look at it.

Anything that looks like one just means we haven’t asked the right question yet.

For instance: What am I going to write about?

21 thoughts on “Rethinking the Problem”

  1. brilliant. and in such you covered a handful of mindful topics all whilst trying to figure out what to write 🙂 me thinks you have that muscle already. it’s the vagrancies of every day life that doesn’t always allow us to recognize it.

  2. My idea machine is fed by a constant stream of articles, news, books and basically everything/anything that keeps my interest for 10 seconds.

    See I can post logically 😛

    1. Nothing inspires ideas (for me) more than reading.

      And I figured you for a logical poster right from the get-go. That’s why I kept reading that first comment and tried to figure out how it applied to whatever nonsense I’d written. 🙂

  3. I don’t know if you’re familiar with “strengthfinders” but it’s a pretty cool strengths test . . . anyway, one of my top five is “Maximizer” which basically means I’m constantly thinking of ways to make everything better…which works great for my professional career but the flip side is never being fully satisfied because “it” could have always been a little better. Also, people who work for me are always being pushed by to make it better. Maximizers can be awesome and terrible to work for/with. As you start your new business, use it well, friend.

    and PS – that quote from Seth was MONEY!

  4. I try. Problem is, the times I come up with really hot stuff to write about I’m at least 50 miles away from a keyboard, increasing the distance at 70 mph. By the time I get back, I can’t even remember what I was so hot to write about. Maybe one of these days I’ll remember the recording devices I still have from the days when I had to use it to record pickup and delivery information given by dispatch over the old radios. The radio is long gone, still have the pocket recorders though.

    1. I carry around little pocket notebooks whenever I’m not at home or work. If something hits me, I jot it down. Old news reporter habit. But it does come in handy.

  5. Crazy idea sex sounds…
    amazing and fun (even at 2:30 in the morning after studying, test taking, and doing homework for three hours).

  6. I have days like that, thankfully I also have days where I have too many ideas and so write a bunch and leave them in my drafts folder for such days. Although some of the ‘grey days’ still sneak up on me when I have nothing to post. Sneaky little ninjas those days are.

    1. Almost every day is a day like that for me anymore. I don’t keep an updated ideas list. It’s bad. I need to start.

    1. I don’t know that I have a personal goal more important than developing this habit. And there’s NO obstacles. Just do it. Every day.

  7. Hey,

    Change the angle, this is we all should do. I mean, this poped into my head once I treid to take a picture and somehow the light was not good so then I kind of changeed the angle and it worked. It changed the concept of the image as well, but I guess it was change for the good.

    I read some of the posts and stop myself wanting to say good guy Matt. Nice to read from you.

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Matt Fray

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