Strange title, but I believe this.
Solving crossword puzzles is one of my favorite things to do. 2across is probably the most used app on my phone.
And I think there are 3 reasons crossword puzzles do in fact have massive personal and societal value.
- Doing the impossible. I often take a first pass at a crossword puzzle and see big blocks of space where I don’t know any of the answers. It seems utterly impossible that I could solve something where so much is so foreign. Yet something magical happens when you work through a crossword. I single letter from one clue tips you off to figure out something in another clue. That huge block of impossibility suddenly and shockingly becomes solvable.
- Correcting yourself. You will inevitably fill something in that is wrong. Unless you can hold the idea that you might have made a mistake – that to err is more than just a philosophically human trait, it is you – you will never succeed at your task. You must question what you believe to be fact and the certainty of your solutions and be willing to erase what you so proudly filled in.
- Patience. Crossword puzzles require that you look at the same problem repeatedly. The clues you don’t know you come back to over and over again. Each time you get a clue it opens doors to other clues. But you must have perseverance. When I face a particularly tough puzzle I work on it for days, and I am repeatedly shocked to discover that a question I didn’t know the answer to yesterday is suddenly clear to me today.
I imagine a world in which more people believed they could do the impossible, sought the ways in which they were wrong in their ideas and “facts”, and had the patience to return to the unsolvable over and over again.
There’s no puzzle we couldn’t solve.
What is the #1 method I have for coming up with new blog posts every week? Idea capture.
Ideas are my product. I need three new ones every week. And if I don’t capture, I’m lost.
What is capture?
This is simply an intentionality. New ideas are important to me. And they are everywhere. I can get a new blog idea out of every conversation I have. But only if I try. I have to finish the conversation and then stop and think, “What was the blog idea in there?” And once I find it, I have to record it somehow.
If I don’t get it down, then the idea vanishes.
I bet you are the same way. You come up with all kinds of great ideas – for your job, your company, your family, yourself, for all kinds of areas of your life. Then your brain goes elsewhere, and poof, the idea is gone.
You need to capture.
You need to write it down.
I recently saw this Scott Adams (Dilbert) quote,
Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
I think both creativity and art depend first on choosing to take the time to recognize and record the ideas that come.
We all have moments of creative greatness and also moments where new ideas are hard to find. Why is that? And what can we do to find better ideas more often?
I often ask my coaching clients to solve their problems as though they were one of their idols. How would Jack Welch solve that? Or George Lucas? Or Michael Jordan? Accessing these other viewpoints frees up my clients’ brains to think in more creative ways.
Daniel Pink explains research that indicates why this technique works (and some others to add). Turns out we are simply more creative, adventurous and courageous with our ideas when the problems aren’t our own. Our brains aren’t locked into their usual thought patterns. So our creative genius is more likely to come out when helping someone else.
In the clearest example, the researchers gave two groups of subjects the same problem. One group was asked to imagine that they themselves were in the situation. The other group was asked to imagine that someone else was in the situation. Whose ideas were more creative? You guessed it. The group imagining someone else was facing the challenge.
So next time you need a fresh idea, imagine the problem belongs to someone else. Think about how one of your heroes would solve the problem. Or invite someone else to share their ideas who isn’t facing the same challenge. And let the creativity flow.
What’s your slowest time as a business? Mondays? August? First week of the month?
You may think that’s just the way it is. In fact, it’s only that way because you haven’t been creative enough to change that.
Case in point: Lick Hudson. An ice cream store in upstate new york. Winter time is dead time for an ice cream store. Nothing to be done about it. Right?
Not so says Lick. Here’s what the store looks like when the weather turns cold.
When work slows down, the creative mind has time to ponder. Embrace your creativity and you can make the most of your down time.
(Now if only I can get the ice cream store in my town to turn into a cheese shop during the winter.)
I had a meeting recently with a client who delivers leadership development programs for his company. He lamented that while his team has terrific knowledge, their programs aren’t as respected as those of outside consultants. Somehow the outsiders have a cache that makes the content seem more potent.
In a variation on the phrase, “it’s better to be lucky than good,” we came up with, “it’s better to be outside than good.” The outside consultant just gets more respect, fair or not.
This is wonderful news to me as an external consultant delivering leadership training and executive coaching. It also serves as a warning to all of us.
Be careful about discounting sources that are too close to you. We can overpay with our money and our time by seeking advice or knowledge from afar when in fact those who are right next to us may have quality and possibly even the best input available.
What’s your biggest challenge right now? Maybe it’s something that feels figured out, but it’s still a mountain of work. Is there truly no better way to attack the problem?
People like to ask the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” This is used as an instructional question with the follow up answer, “One bite at a time.”
But what if that isn’t really the answer? What if that is just a cute saying to encourage you to slog through your work? What if there are more creative solutions?
Maybe the way to eat an elephant is to first figure out refrigeration. Or find a hungry village. Or to dry it like jerky. Or to use lots of garlic. Or make it the secret ingredient on the next Iron Chef. Or to not eat it at all because elephants respect their dead and are the only species other than humans that have death rituals.
Maybe it’s time to take another look at that big challenge. Maybe there is another way.