Tag Archives: Solutions

How to Get Unstuck and Solve Problems

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The most valuable thing in the world is a good idea.

Sometimes we think up something fantastic and find out it’s already been done and feel discouraged. But so what? Now we know we can think of really good ideas.

Many years before Apple invented the iPod and before the internet was commonplace, I thought of MP3 players.

I didn’t think of portable ones, though, so my idea would have never worked. But I did think of a large stereo amplifier where you could buy songs and they would be stored there (just in that one place!) like a jukebox. Essentially, a really crappy version of iTunes.

I always liked that something I thought up one day became an awesome thing. I like the real version so much better than my idea, so I’m glad Steve Jobs was on the case.

I’m getting obsessed with idea generation. As someone who works in marketing, writes stories and aspires to write books, I can’t think of a skill I’d rather have than the ability to generate solid, actionable ideas anytime I want or need to.

My favorite writer James Altucher has been writing about this over and over and over again. He writes down 10 ideas every day. For what? For whatever. Anything. Everything.

Ten ways to improve a cable company’s customer service.

Ten ways I could lose weight.

Ten ideas for getting a better night’s sleep.

Ten things for which to feel grateful.

Ten local businesses I could help with my skillset and knowledge base.

Ten places I can visit this year.

Ten people I could introduce to one another for business or social reasons.

Ten things I could do today to have more fun and feel happy.

There is no subject too big or too small. The reason Altucher writes down 10 ideas a day is to exercise what he calls the Idea Muscle. He insists whatever parts of our brain (I’m not a neurologist) are responsible for idea generation can be flexed and pushed and strengthened through repetitious exercise.

I believe him.

But, It’s Too Hard

My son says that about tying his shoes or reading advanced books or accurately throwing a frisbee or about any number of things he’s still learning how to do. He’s 6.

I know what he means.

There are so many things I used to be terrible at doing, but now I’m really good because I’ve done them thousands of times.

I still forget that lesson even though I’m 36 and am supposed to be an adult now.

I couldn’t write 10 ideas every day because when I have a million things to choose from I can never make a choice.

I do much better with prompts or with parameters. Constraints, if you will. Creative constraints are a valuable thing, and Twitter and it’s 140-character limit is probably the best modern-day example of it.

I would talk about this 10-idea-a-day concept with friends and associates. But I never really had any personal experience to back it up because I found it so difficult to do.

But then me and a couple partners started a side business, and one of the first things we do with prospective clients is thoroughly go over their business and come up with a list of 10 things we think we could do to improve it. It’s a fantastic exercise, and I’m pretty good at it.

My problem isn’t that I’m not capable of generating 10 ideas. I’m actually decent at it. I just have a lot of trouble honing in on specifics. Once I learned the value of artificial constraints on my ability to generate new ideas, the shackles came off. And now I’m getting better.

Enter James Altucher’s wife—Claudia Altucher. She wrote a book recently called “Become an Idea Machine,” based on this very idea. And in the book, she provides 180 idea prompts because if you come up with 10 ideas every day for 180 days, you will be an idea machine, she writes—someone capable of brainstorming viable, actionable ideas for any problem you might face.

I can’t think of one thing I’d rather be good at than the ability to come up with creative solutions on demand—in business meetings, in helping my son learn to think and problem-solve, in my personal life to help others and myself.

I’ve been writing 10 ideas a day based on Claudia Altucher’s prompts. Ten online courses (with curriculum) that I’d like to take. Ten mobile apps that would improve my life. Ten things that would improve commercial airline travel. Ten new recipes.

The point isn’t necessarily to generate phenomenal ideas (though you might!).

The point is simply to exercise the muscle. To get better at the part where you come up with creative solutions to problems.

At work. At home. In your social life. In your spiritual life. Financially. Physically. Et cetera.

The first few ideas are always easy. Then it gets hard and you make your mind sweat a little. That’s when the growth happens.

At some point, I’m pretty sure the prompts will ask me to come up with 10 new ideas by combining ideas that have already been thought of.

Endless possibilities.

Rad.

Someone who reads this blog wrote me. They’re sad. And they feel stuck. And I don’t want them to feel stuck.

And they don’t have to.

There are 10 groups or clubs or gyms or hobbies or classes they could join today to learn a new skill and meet new people.

There are 10 new careers they could pursue.

There are 10 things they could do that might make a spouse or partner feel more loved and appreciated.

There are 10 things they know more about than most people and could write books or make videos or teach an online course about.

There are 10 ways to laugh more.

There are 10 people to call or email or text RIGHT now because you love them and they need to know in case someone doesn’t wake up tomorrow or the world ends.

There are 10 people to hug. And 10 people to help. And 10 people to forgive.

There are always 10 things you can do this week, and tomorrow, and later tonight, and right now.

Things that might change the whole world. Or things that might only change you.

Sometimes, there isn’t any difference.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.

Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.

My uncle saw the yellow piece of paper stuck under the windshield and walked over to investigate.

A police ticket with a $175 fine.

One of the service vans he owns as part of his flooring store operation in a small Ohio town had expired tags.

The man makes plenty of money. $175 doesn’t mean much to him.

But the man is also principled. And the more he thought about the ticket, the more irritated he became.

It doesn’t have to be this way, he thought.

All of his friends and family told him not to. But he decided to fight the ticket.

His “guilt” was not in question. The van had expired tags that everyone at the company had simply forgot to renew.

But he was having trouble with the spirit of the law.

“If my van is sitting still in a parking lot with expired tags, is that somehow a public threat or nuisance?” he said. “Why not give residents a 24-48-hour warning period, where they can go pay the registration fees and get updated tags without the added penalty from the police department? What good does any of that do?”

I had never thought about this before. But he’s right. I’m all for making sure vehicle owners have an updated license and registration. But why tax people simply for being busy or forgetful? Why not give them a chance to do it right? An expiration date, where the fine is waived if they register in time?

What harm could that possibly cause?

My uncle argued with the judge in court. She got pissed, told him he was wasting the court’s time and piled on some community service hours in addition to his fine.

Six years ago, we were having a new garage built at our house after a large tree had fallen in a wind storm and destroyed our old garage.

We left town to visit family more than 500 miles away for the holidays. Because the contractors needed to back up trucks and equipment into my driveway while we were out of town, I parked my other car on the street in front of the house.

While we were gone, a snow storm hit.

There is a city ordinance requiring people to not park in the street when the snow plows are out. But because I was out of town, I, A. Didn’t know about the storm, and B. Couldn’t move the car even if I had known.

The city towed my car, and it cost a few hundred dollars to get it back.

That was bullshit.

The Things We Do

Why, I wonder, do we do all these things?

Who decided we’re all going to send our kids in herds to school and teach them the same things and tell them “Be yourself! Be a leader, not a follower!” but everything we do is encourage them to do the same things everyone else is doing.

When you’re a little kid, you don’t question why you’re doing anything. Your parents tell you and all your friends are doing it, so you just do it also.

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS!?!?

I want to know.

I want to know why we don’t give parents more choices. I want to know why we don’t let kids learn about whatever they want to learn about and help them master something. I want to know why we all seem to blindly agree and go along with this being “the way.”

Some less fortunate kids think all you do is get through junior high, hustle through high school, and try to live as long as possible in adulthood, dodging cops and bullets. Because it’s all they know.

Really fortunate kids like me were herded into school and encouraged to do well because we “HAD to go to college to get a good job!!!” and everyone else was doing it anyway, so even if you didn’t HAVE to, you just assumed that was the way.

We never questioned it. We just followed the crowd. The existing rulebook that said: 1. Go to school. 2. Go to college. 3. Get a job. 4. Get married. 5. Try to make as much money as possible. 6. Try to not die. 7. If you’re lucky, retire at 65 and have enough money to not live in poverty for as long as you can survive. 8. Die and pay estate taxes.

I sit in a cubicle every day.

It’s because I make just enough money where I feel like I can’t afford to quit. Why can’t I afford to quit?

Because I have to pay my mortgage. And for a car. And for cable TV and Internet access. And for my son’s tuition. And all these little things I’m convinced I “need.”

It’s a pretty good job and I’m grateful to have it. Very. I’ve been unemployed. It’s a real shit show. This is better.

But still I ask: Why? Why are we doing it this way?

We wear business-casual every day. Khakis and button-ups and polo shirts and dress shoes. And always arrive at the same time, even though the only thing I require to do my job is a computer with Internet access. I could do it from almost anywhere.

The company invests my salary and benefits package in me (which I appreciate!) and in return, I make them a lot more money than they pay me through strategic execution of my duties—many of which are measureable, and I take great pride in improving those numbers as much as I can.

But despite that value I—and all my co-workers provide—we still have to wear these clothes, and sit at these desks, and be here at this time, and leave at that time. We’ll all get almost-4 percent raises if we’re lucky that should end up almost offsetting the cost of rising healthcare.

I’m not bagging on my employer. They really are wonderful relative to “companies.”

But I am bagging on rules that no longer make sense to me.

Three hundred years ago, if you sailed on a boat too far in any direction, you would fall off the edge into a chasm of nothingness.

A hundred years ago, black people, women and people attracted to the same sex were commonly considered second-class citizens by assholes who look like me. Huge groups of marginalized immigrants experienced the same level of discrimination.

A hundred years ago, alcohol was illegal.

Fifty years ago, basically every single person smoked tobacco.

Twenty years ago, almost none of us had ever used the Internet.

Ten years ago, the iPhone was three years away from invention.

Today, marijuana is legal for medical use in 15 or so U.S. states, and legal for recreational use in two.

Momentous changes that we somewhat take for granted but required enormous courage and fortitude to affect for those passionate to the cause.

We don’t need to fly to Mars, but we could.

We don’t need to cure cancer, but we will.

We just need to be courageous enough to look at all the things happening around us and ask: “Why are we doing this? 

Sometimes, it makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, there are excellent reasons why.

Other times? Small business owners are getting fined because someone they employ forgot to pay $50 for a sticker with a new number on it.

So my uncle is going to run for mayor and try to change the law.

So I’m going to make my own job where maybe someday I can hire people and make sure all of the “rules” at our company make sense to everyone who is helping grow it.

How can we do this better? How can I help?

Because there’s always another way.

Because there’s always a better way.

Because it doesn’t have to be like this.

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