The key to problem solving: The freedom to be creative, fake creativity or, if all else fails, chocolate!
‘Be creative…now!’ ‘Solve a problem…now!’ Ever had that pressure put on you? I know I have. One time that springs to mind was a grueling 2 day entry-test to get into an Industrial Design Degree programme at Lund University. I had a really bad cold, and not a lot of creative experience or confidence behind me. It was horrid. Chuck a load of wanna-be designers in a room and give them a load of briefs (design briefs not designer briefs!!) and watch them sweat! I had a fever and the shakes and had to present my work to a panel, who must have thought I was a nervous wreck or severely hungover, or had Parkinson’s Disease until I pointed out that I was in fact suffering from a nasty nasty cold. I got a lot of praise during that panel interview…sadly not for my outstanding work, but for my apparent good command of the Swedish language. I didn’t get in. The universe knows best anyway, as a few months later during another degree programme I discovered my love for graphic design, which I think is far more instant, satisfying and accessible, and suits me much better.
You might think to yourself that if I am moaning about the pressure of coming up with designs on the spot then I am not suited to the modern work place. And I will quite agree with you. I mean I can certainly perform under pressure and am always pretty creative, but I have to say that my best ideas do not come when plonked in front of a computer and prodded with a stick to perform.
My most creative ideas come when I am not at a desk, and when I am not particularly thinking about the problem. I am sure we have all heard that the great thinkers came up with their revolutionary theories when doing other things than working. Mine often come to me when I am walking in nature or working out. In the days when I used to be partial to more than a drink or two I would find that the delicious, barely awake stage of waking up the morning after (when still slightly intoxicated) was an amazingly creative time. It was during one such morning when I lay in bed just 25% awake in a dreamy state yet with my mind going to crazy, alcohol induced places that I came up with the cheeky, but much appreciated, slogan for a back-mounted vacuum cleaner with a built-in massage function and MP3 player that I was working on for a group project. “Vac-Pac: Pleasure from behind!”
In fact I am sometimes tempted to get ridiculously drunk just to experience that wonderfully creative window of time the next day. But now that I am a little older – and therefore far less tolerant of the physical and mental hell that comes with a hang over – I think I will give it a miss and bounce on my mini trampoline instead.
So I do find it frustrating when companies insist on fixed working hours. Especially since I have had the good fortune of breaking away from the traditional 9-5 route and am more used to directing my own time and working when creativity is there.
And I know I am not the only one. A friend is doing some contract work at a rather old fashioned organization. He is used to working with modern, high-tech companies and despairs at the Stone-age mentality of his new colleagues. He rather amusingly described their use of email: “They come up to me at my desk and tell me that they have sent me an email. They then hand me a printed version of the email they have just sent!” Funny but insanely frustrating! So this organization is really not in the ‘problems are more likely to be solved away from the computer’ camp and have even bothered to reprimand him for not doing all his work chained to a desk.
So what you may ask, has prompted this public criticism of modern work life? Well, today I am not working in the office. Today I am free to go to and from the computer depending on my mood and my state of creativity. No prodding sticks. No need to ‘fake work’ to show that I am in fact thinking about the problem and not just aimlessly staring out of the window. You know the ‘I am actually working’ look don’t you? The frown of concentration; deliberately talking to your self; writing something down and dramatically crossing it out again; stabbing the air with a pointed finger and giving a satisfied nod? You don’t know it? It’s a good tactic to use when stapled to your desk until some form of inspiration strikes. Alternatively, you could subscribe to the following idea which is slightly less bonkers and far more pleasant:
May all people, who has completed a major piece of work
and who soon are going to sleep
may all souls who for a moment
feel themselves to be without inspiration and motivation
may all people who find the air humid, the time moving slowly
and the mood difficult to appreciate
grant themselves a good half liter of hot chocolate……..
they will experience a miracle.
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1775-1826)
French magistrate and gastronome
What ever you are doing – have a great day. Eat chocolate. Be inspired!