Turn Problems Into Ideas

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Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

Many of these prompts have been akin to invention: making ideas and trying new things. In Let My People Go Surfing, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard writes about how his company doesn’t invent—it discovers. “There’s simply no time for inventing,” he writes. Instead, the company talks directly to customers and learns how they use its products. The company digitally renders new ideas, makes samples, and works to shorten the time it takes to implement these changes. From those situations, Patagonia finds guidance on how its products evolve. Of course, this involves developing an understanding of people and providing them with a solution.

Your idea can be a solution. For example, if you’ve heard a friend talk about how boring their new apartment or house is, you can paint something that gently alleviates some of that boredom or something so bold it completely shatters it. If you’re a programmer hearing someone talk about their problems with gardening, you can build a simple app to help solve them.

Focus on Connection

This prompt is about making something just for one person, someone you know, as a way of finding authentic creative expression. Productivity writer Tim Ferriss found the tone for his books when drafting an email to his best friend. Michelle Kuo, assigns letters to all of her students, whether it’s in classes at The American University of Paris or at a creative workshop for incarcerated people. She observes when people begin to write, they risk their voices sounding pretentious, because it’s common to believe “good writing” means impenetrable or abstruse. Kuo told me, “There’s something about writing a letter that allows you to discover your conversational voice, which also means your forms of speech, your idioms, your little jokes. Sometimes, it also allows the voice to be funnier, to be self deprecating, and to desire actual connection. When a person knows who their exact audience is, it gives them more consistency, so they’re not switching between different potential targets. When you’re consistent, then the reader trusts you. An outside reader trusts you.”

Kuo suggests that if you’re into songwriting or the recording arts, an equivalent to the letter could be a ballad. Bernice Liu, also known as artist Spime, suggests a visual equivalent could be a signed painting or a portrait of someone you know.

One happy byproduct of focusing on connection as your inspiration is that it may bring you in contact with other artists and aspiring creatives with whom you can continue to share work and inspiration. When teaching kids in rural Arkansas, Kuo would assign “I Am” poems, which consist of lines starting with “I am….” She writes in her memoir, “I had asked the students to tape their ‘I Am’ poems on the walls, to make them proud of their own writing. Then I noticed something surprising: They wanted to read one another’s work. Certain students—who, during my attempts at collective reading, put their heads down or slapped the head of a studious classmate, trying to keep him from ‘being good,’ as they called it—would now stand attentively in front of a classmate’s poem, tracing the line methodically with an index finger, not saying a word.”

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