Today, I’m working on a puzzle I am finding particularly difficult. Truth to tell…I started it days ago and still haven’t finished it! I am completely stuck. I tried everything I knew to do and still no solution. My usual strategies had always been successful…until now. I keep moving the partially completed puzzle around as if being in a different physical space will cause the solution to magically appear. (Heck, sometimes that works for me — get out of the office for a little breather and shazam! a solution just pops up).
I was even ready to “cheat” by finding the printed solution and taking a quick peek for “inspiration.” I had my rationalization all ready — “It wasn’t really cheating it was a new learning strategy: start with the answer and work my way back.” I suppose it is no coincidence that I have found probably the only puzzle collection that does not include the answers neatly tucked “in the back” or “just a click away.” Then it struck me…suduko was ready to teach me a new lesson. Was I ready to learn?
As I wondered, lessons kept unfolding. And it is not at all surprising that these lessons apply to all kinds of creative challenges. Here’s what I’m learning today from my sudoku Teacher:
Notice when you are stuck and are no longer “experimenting with different possibilities” but just “spinning your wheels.” How many times have I run into this as I build my business and bring it into the world on the net — confronting all sorts of technical puzzles and creative challenges
Don’t stay stuck too long. Well, duh! This is an invitation to fail faster at the small stuff so you can move forward with the big. You might even set a time limit. I will stare at this thing and grumble for 10 more minutes, then I will declare: “I have failed! I didn’t have all of the answers and strategies I would ever need.” Ok, done. Now let’s move on.
Look for support from experts or at least others with more experience. What a radical concept — you don’t have to do it alone! Others have gone before and even if they didn’t do exactly what you are attempting, their experience is close enough to be of help. And even more outrageous — these folks are willing…no, eager…to share what they have learned. All you have to do is ask. And asking is often as simple as typing a few words into Google.
Note to self: if you don’t understand what the expert is saying, find a new expert. Find an expert who speaks in a style you understand. When I did my Google search on sudoku solutions, I found lots of resources. Some were written in a way that I felt like I needed a translater. Others, I got immediately because of the style, tone, story, images the expert used. Look for the resonance.
Beware of the romance of the perfect strategy. When you’ve found resources that you love, you can get waylaid by wanting to learn everything you can — following one path after another until you find yourself hours later, still no progress on your puzzle, but with a flush of excitement, and a list a mile long of new things you have just got to try or read about. Don’t laugh. I know you’ve done it, too. There is a balance here. A little diverging is healthy and enriching. Too much and it begins to smack just a bit of addiction to the next new idea, which sometimes goes by another name: procrastination.
And…the mother of all surprises…sometimes, logic is not enough. Sometimes more expertise and more strategies will not move you forward. Sometimes you just have to…(gulp)…guess! I was shocked! And then I was shocked by how shocked I was! Sometimes the only thing you can do is take your best SWAG (scientific wild assed guess) and see what happens. My head seemed to know this — especially when considering other people’s challenges — but every other fiber of my being seemed caught up in a whole different belief that, if you had asked me, I would have said I didn’t have. And then the walls came tumbling down. Whew!
So, whether the puzzle is of the sudoku variety or some other creative challenge, see if these lessons provide a new way to move gracefully through a stuck place. And, let me know how it goes!