Scott’s Thoughts: Sweat it Out

“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one you have.”

-Emile Chartier, Commonly known as Alain, was a French philosopher, journalist, and pacifist.

Man running stadium stairs.“To meet complex challenges, we need creative solutions.”

This phrase has been said countless times, from the Monday morning status meeting to the executive retreat. And it’s true. But why are truly creative solutions to complex problems so rare?

When we’re faced with a challenge, we brainstorm ways to solve the problem. Idea generation is kind of like weight training. The first few reps are easy. Only deep in the set do we really begin to sweat. As the lactic acid builds up and we “feel the burn,” our brain tells us to stop. But the brain is wily and lazy. Some of the most productive work comes after the burn. It’s beyond the burn that we tell our muscles and nervous system how serious we are about getting stronger.

So it is with problem solving. The first few ideas always come easily. But the best ideas often show up beyond the obvious ones. The next time you sit down to solve a problem, tell yourself you won’t quit until you’ve come up with 20 solutions. When you hit the point you think you can’t possibly come up with a new idea, don’t quit. Push. Sweat it out. Even if you think you’re tapped out, commit to spending at least an additional twenty to thirty minutes “sitting” with the problem.

Not every idea you come up with will be a viable solution. Some may be laughably absurd. Some may be statistically unlikely. But with idea generation, you can’t afford to censor yourself. You never know when two dumb ideas will get together and give birth to a great one.

Mediocrity persists when we settle for obvious answers. We are never in more danger of missing out on greatness than when we grab for what seems like expedient common sense. Dig deep. Sweat it out.

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