Note: This article is about using creativity to improve your problem solving skills, and approximately a 20 minute read. This is the second article in a series in which I teach you useful creative techniques to help you in your problem solving skills. It is a bit abstract, and involves higher level thinking, so it may not be for you. So to be upfront, here are the bullet points for it. If you want to skip my introductory “fluff” and get right to the creative technique I will talk about in this article, feel free to skip to the subheading “Creative Technique #2: Image Distortion”.
Image Source Pexels
We have the power to interpret and view anything we want in whatever way we choose.
There’s no real objective measure of how “good” and “accurate” your perception or interpretation of events is.
Because of the way we choose to make sense out of situations, sometimes we tend to see more adversity and challenge in situations than there really are.
The creative technique of image distortion explained here is about redefining the various dimensions of a problem, to the point of absurdity and irrationality, until it looks like a completely different problem. The intent here is to distort your problem to the point that it looks like a completely different one, and hopefully beget different and new solutions for solving it.
My key point is that, if you’re willing to engage in self-deception and alter the way you perceive a problem by redefining its various aspects, you’ll be looking at looking at a very different problem. And a different problem will beget different and additional solutions. And the more potential solutions you have for a problem, the greater the likelihood that you’ll be able to solve it.
There is no one right way to see things:
Image Source Pixabay
There’s many different ways to perceive a situation or an event. That’s probably why there’s thousands of value systems and religions out there. We have the power to interpret and view anything in whatever way we want. There is no supervisor holding us accountable to a certain way of looking at things, or telling us what we should value and what we shouldn’t. This lack of oversight leaves us with a lot of freedom. We truly are left to our own devices when we’re trying to make sense out of something.
In the United States, a famous series of movies called Star Wars deals with issues of morality, religion, good vs. evil, and destiny. One of the main characters in the 2nd film in the series, a wise Jedi named Obi-wan, has a great quote about perception. He says that, “Your focus determines your reality.” Now, that short statement can be interpreted in many ways, but I would say that the general meaning behind it is that what you are “seeing” is rooted in what you’re choosing to see.
For example, let’s apply this to how people think about money. If someone thinks that money in the world comes easily, that it’s quite simple to create value for someone else, and it’s inevitable that they will get compensated for their work, and that we’re all working together to make each other wealthier, then they’ll behave in a way where that belief is “true” for them and eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their mind will attune to opportunities for making money easily and quickly. However, if they think that the world is this difficult, challenging environment, where it is difficult to make money, and that anyone who has anything got it through cheating someone else out of something, then they’ll start behaving in a way that “makes” that perception come true. They won’t be attuned to generating any wealth, instead focusing on financial limitations and scarcity.
The power to see and interpret situations as we see fit originates from our creative mental muscle. We have the ability to “tune” our focus into anything really—we can focus on perceiving threats, or money, or the lack of money, or fitness opportunities, or conspiratorial ideas. The downside to this is that it’s very easy to fall into seeing things that keep us stuck in a rut. Now I’m not saying to disregard obvious and clear and present dangers. Danger exists and needs to be appropriately mitigated and prepared for. But you don’t want to inundate yourself by focusing on everything that could go wrong. Focusing too much on the unpleasantness and morbidity of life is disempowering and weakens our belief in ourselves. And if we don’t believe in ourselves, then we’re probably not good problem solvers!
Problems are often rooted in our perception of them:
Image Source Pixabay
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has a saying that when you’re dealing with a problem, there’s a pretty good chance that it’ll look better in the morning. I think what he meant is that when we are immediately faced with the challenges or difficulty of a situation, it’s easy to overthink it and overestimate it’s perceived difficulty. But, when you’ve had time to rest and mull the problem over, often it doesn’t “appear” as scary or as intimidating as when you first faced it. In fact, the problem might have never been that complicated, but because of your initial perception, it seemed a lot harder than it really was.
If you’re dealing with something quite challenging, it’s easy to make the mistake where you are seeing and believing things to be worse than they really are. It’s easy to sell ourselves short and to overvalue the problem. For example, objectively, you can come up with great arguments as to why you couldn’t be a Navy Seal or start your own coffee company, or find a great life partner, or anything really. Rationalizing that an objective barrier is too high for you is something a lot of people do not begin with pursuing a goal or dealing with a problem.
People often think that things are a lot harder to do than they really are, in order to rationalize not trying to face or solve them. It’s all rooted in how you choose to view a situation, and if you’re confident and willing enough, you can view something that appears to be intractable as quite easily solvable. I fear I’m getting too abstract here, but my point is that if you’re in the habit of perceiving a lot of adversity and challenge in everything you do, you’re probably letting a lot of problems and issues go unresolved in your life. And in fact, it’s likely you’re suffering and and allowing many things to go unresolved because you’ve convinced yourself of seeing them in a certain way that prevents you from doing anything about them. This is not good.
Our expectations can create problems for us:
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Buddhism would state that all suffering is based on expectations. Expectation in this context means what someone perceives is owed or meant for them. For a Buddhist, taking away this sense of expectation would result in taking away all suffering (and arguably all problems).
I don’t find that too difficult to accept, since most problems we deal with are rooted in our perception of them. How we’re choosing to value and judge situations, about how things should or shouldn’t be. This isn’t meant to say that you shouldn’t have your own take or interpretation of things, but only that said interpretation is, by its very nature, going to ascribe a lot of phenomena as “wrong” and “bad.”
The good and bad thing about perception is that there’s no objective measure of how “good” or “accurate” it is. If you’re in a crazy cult and think that tomorrow the world is going to end, there isn’t any authority out there that can legitimately “prove” to you otherwise. So, in terms of how we choose to make sense of things and hope to be accurate in our take on things, we’re all kind of winging it. We’re all doing the best we can, and you shouldn’t feel stupid if you spend too much time holding on to a negative lens on things. I personally don’t know the best or more accurate way of looking at things, but I think it’s advisable to always check your own assumptions and to be willing to see problems in alternative ways.
Sometimes our perception hurts us, making us see monsters that aren’t there:
Image Source Pixabay
Going back to how there's no real guide to how to perceive things, it’s often us that are our very own worst enemies and make things out to be worse or more challenging than they are. We easily hold ourselves back, when we perceive a problem in a disempowering way. Now, I’m not saying all problems can be solved. What I am saying is that many of us see problems and obstacles and monsters that aren’t there, and probably will never be there. Much of our perception and take on things is based on the biases and beliefs of other people. Could be our parents, or friends, or just society in general, and we just incorporated those assumptions by default. The thing is that a lot of things in life that we want requires us be willing to alter our perception or take on things. A lot of times we find that we have to let go of previously cherished beliefs if we’re going to get out of a bad situation to improve our lives.
For example, much of motivational speakers focus their speeches on trying to change the paradigms of their intended audience. To believe in themselves, to trust that things will work out, and that they can overcome anything. You also see this with religious leaders, mental health psychologists. Even financial consultants engage in this, with a big chunk of their work centered around changing their clients’ assumptions about money.
Realizing this, it behooves us to check our assumptions regarding what we’re seeing. Especially if those assumptions are disempowering. Maybe we’re not seeing the whole thing. Maybe the way we’re seeing things is messed up; we’re not quite sure how exactly, but only that they are. Sometimes we need to be willing to change the way we’re seeing something so that we can defeat it. Altering your perception and playing mind games can work, but a lot of times something as simple as believing that we’ll get through something, and that we already possess the willpower to do so, is enough to transform everything.
Creative technique #2: Image Distortion:
Image Source Pixabay
This creative technique is all about changing your perception of a problem by redefining its various components. If you can change the way you allow yourself to see a problem, you might be able to come up with a different interpretation of it. The hope is that with a different “take” on a problem, you’ll have an easier time coming up with different, alternative solutions for it. You don’t have to actually do anything about the problem (just yet). You just have to be critical of the way you’re seeing it, and try to seek out an alternative ways to define your problem that you’re dealing with.
Now, this could be done by deceiving yourself, magnifying your focus on a certain aspect of your problem, making it seem “lesser” than it already is, or altering how you define different aspects of it. I use the word “distortion”, since you’re just changing the optics of your problem by making a decision to do so. This is willful conscious distortion, where you try to visualize your problem with altogether different dimensions. You’re just changing the way you are choosing to see your problem, and of course, your perception of it does not need to be grounded in any kind of objective reality.
Image Source Pexels
Here’s a sample problem by which you can apply this creative problem solving technique. Let’s say you want to improve your basic digital video editing skills. You’re not quite sure where to start, so you google search “how to improve your basic digital video editing skills”, and frankly, the results are shocking. You get hit with millions of hits, many sponsored ads, and hundreds (if not thousands) of people online advertising their basic digital video editing online educational programs. You go to the library yourself, and find that there is a large section of books on the subject. You decide to pick up a book, and flip through it, and you find that it’s approximately 500 pages long. All dense materials. Somehow the problem looks even harder!
So instead, you decide to go to YouTube and watch a tutorial on it, since it appears to be a much easier by having someone on video break it down for you. Unfortunately, when you do that, you are again hit with thousands of results. You find that many of the videos that are at the very top of your search results are often over an hour long, or are part of a longer series of videos. You don’t trust the sponsored advertisements you see on it. You feel exhausted already.
You still want to improve your basic video editing skills, but the problem looks difficult and very challenging. It looks very time consuming because the subject appears to be overwhelming. Where should you start? What do you do? How would you start to approach a big problem like this that seems too overwhelming?
To use this technique, you’re going to focus on how you can distort or make your problem more irrational or unstable than it appears by redefining its components. You’re going to focus on how you can alter the perception of your problem, almost to the point of absurdity, by altering how you define its various dimensions. Now, this might seem ridiculous, but tweaking your problem to the point where you’re seeing it in a crazy way can help spark your problem-solving skills and help you come up with new solutions. This is all about presenting the problem to yourself in a completely different way, and if you can’t do it in a conventional way, then being willing to go down the rabbit hole and see it in a mad, absurd, and crazy way.
Step by Step Approach:
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First, identify clearly and succinctly how you’re choosing to perceive and interpret your problem.
Then, make the decision to fight against that perception, and allow yourself the freedom to reinterpret your perception of your problem. Give yourself permission, even if it feels and sounds stupid. Tell yourself that you are no longer going to perceive your problem in the same way again.
Next, begin by redefining the various components, pieces, or parts of the problem. Start with redefining one aspect, and then see how that goes. See how much influence and impact that has on your total perception of your problem.
Finally, keep redefining more parts, dimensions, or aspects of that problem until your perception of it is dramatically different. Blatantly lie to yourself if you have to. If this sounds ridiculous, write your redefinition(s) down on paper. Once you’ve done that, stop and approach and re-engage with your problem as it now appears. It should look very different, and spark different potential solutions for it.
If you fail at this, keep practicing. It’s hard to change your programming on things, and even the most open-minded amongst us have to struggle when they want to change their perception of something. Keep trying and playing around with the optics of your problem until you get it right and can successfully reprogram your perception of it. You’ll know if you have succeeded when you find yourself looking at a completely different problem. At that point, you should be able to come up with additional ideas on how to approach solving it.
The Key Point:
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The key point is in giving yourself as much license as possible in redefining the various dimensions or aspects of your problem so that it “looks” significantly different. Doing this doesn’t do anything about the problem, but changes its optics, to the point where it can be made much more manageable or solvable. Changing the visuals and presentation of a problem or issue is sometimes what is needed to get past it. And this might require some willful self-deception on your part to see the problem in a more absurd or ridiculous way.
Return to Problem:
Let’s go back to your problem of wanting to improve your basic video editing skills.
First, we identify how we’re seeing the problem(i.e. “Improving my basic video editing skills is going to be this long and arduous process where I buy some program online, and I sit in front of a computer by myself, and in my free time I watch tutorials and videos on it. I will probably suck a lot at first, and not be sure of what software to get. I should start getting the hang of basic functions with video editing software by the end of the first month, and then I might be able to make a small edit for a quick 10 second video. It will probably take me another 4 months before I feel comfortable editing larger pieces, and probably a whole year before I can say and tell people I legitimately have basic editing skills. Overall it’s going to be this very hard and incredibly taxing thing.)
Then, we tell ourselves that we’re going to fight against seeing that problem in that way. Let’s allow ourselves to be self-deluded, and tell ourselves that that way of looking at things is wrong (i.e. “I’m not going to see the problem of improving my basic video editing skills as this long arduous process where I spent time by myself, require a month to get the hang of the software, and have to do an entire year of practice before I can say I have basic video editing skills”).
Next, let’s begin redefining the various components of the problem. Let’s start with one thing (i.e. “Improving my basic video editing skills isn’t going to be this long and arduous process where I have to buy some program online and sit in front by myself. I’m actually going to enjoy it because it’s going to look like so much fun! I’m going to learn it all in one month!”)
Keep redefining more parts until your problem looks completely different and you have a very different perception of it (i.e. “In order to improve my basic video editing skills, I don’t even need to do anything challenging or difficult. All I have to focus on is making sure I enjoy the process and have a fun time. Plus, I’m really smart and can learn how to do anything in a few weeks!”).
In this step, you would keep modifying the optics of your problem until you were able to see your problem in a much different, distorted, and irrational way. In this example, on step 4, we focused on how we were going to have so much fun and how we are really smart and can learn how to do anything in a few weeks, which is a distortion from the way we were perceiving the problem as long and boring and arduous in the first step. For our example, we are now looking at the problem as something that isn’t challenging or difficult, but fun, and our focus instead is on enjoying the process, and how we’re so smart that we can learn anything in a few weeks. From this perspective, we’re focusing on how we can make the whole thing fun, and we’re focusing on the enjoyment aspect of it.
In this example, by distorting the problem, we went from seeing it as a long and arduous and complex and boring task to one that was quick, easy, and very fun. This changes our perception from looking at solutions designed to mitigate challenge and difficulty, into other ones that are centered on fun and enjoyment maximization.
In other words, instead of looking at learning video editing as this long and complex process where we are asking ourselves, “How can I get through this boring and long process?” we’re instead looking at video editing as a short and fun process where we are asking ourselves:
“How can I make this more enjoyable?”
This leads our problem solving to the following possible solutions:
A. Maybe if I learn it with friends?
B. Maybe if I can make the learning experience more social instead of it just being me by myself?
C. Maybe if I change the learning environment?
D. Maybe if I start off by video editing by focusing on tweaking funny cat and puppy videos?
E. Maybe if I just assign myself a block of 10 hours to learn it all in one day so it doesn’t feel so stressful and then put it away until it feels like fun again?
F. Maybe if I tell myself it’s something so exciting that I can’t wait to start it, and throw some party or event for it?
G. Maybe if I start telling others that I’m going to enjoy it so much?
H. Maybe if I just believe that I’ll enjoy it, and have it become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
I. Maybe if I look for a fun teacher to teach me the material?
J. Maybe if I focus on the most enjoyable aspect of video editing, and start with that?
K. Maybe if I reward myself when I finish a certain educational milestone?
In this example, by distorting the perception of the problem, we’re looking at the problem differently and brainstorming very different types of solutions for it. Instead of focusing on it as being boring and long and painful, we’re looking at how we can solve the problem by focusing on its social aspect or by rewarding ourselves.
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There’s a saying by motivational speaker and writer Wayne Dyer that says, “When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” Often, the difficulty of problems we’re facing is directly attributable to our perception of them. We have to be very careful in making sure that we’re not making things look worse to us than they really are. Following this line of thinking, if we’re willing to change the way we see problems by distorting them, then we can see them differently and ultimately come up with more potential solutions for them. And the more potential solutions we can come up for a problem, the better our decision making and problem-solving will be.