The Story and The Answer
It was a warm and sunny California day. One of the rarer ones, where the fog had dissipated and the warmth of the sun could be felt on my skin. The large, open, airplane hanger like creative space I called second-home was buzzing with energy. We had our idea, we had made some progress, but we were stuck. Serendipity would have it that we ran into our professor by the tall glass and steel walls of the entry way. My feeling of being stuck radiated from my face, as he asked us how our project was going.
I did my best to explain. I thought, of anyone I know, he would have the answer. I am with the guru of solving these kinds of problems. Relax, it’s going to work out. I spoke through the loud echo, provided by the concrete floor, of people talking wildly as they exited and entered the building. Done, now the answer.
“Go out and ask the world.”
I hated those words, for a while. I was not asking for a some sort of cryptic koan-like puzzle to chew on — I wanted an answer. I pressed for a more specific answer only to get the ever frustrating, “what do you think?” or “how might you solve that?” My thinking is what got me to feeling stuck, what part of that doesn’t make sense!? Frustrated, I said a polite salutation and walked on.
That was the beginning of my fascination with getting unstuck.
Since then, I’ve used the advice I was given both intentionally and unintentionally to answer my questions and pursue my fascinations. Going out and asking the world is a forcing function that bridges the ideal vision in your head with reality. It requires that you let go of the ideal vision and get curious about how it might exist in the world. The feeling of being stuck often arises when the ideal vision seems too far away. (See Pixar rule #11.)
Explorations of Unstuck
This going out at asking the world idea is very simple at its core: gather new information and use that to inspire progress. You can do this is many ways: read articles online, talk to people you know, talk to people you don’t know, do something completely different to let your mind not focus on the problem.
After many false starts to this article, I started searching around for unstuck wisdom. In doing so, I read new articles and advice online. This helped me remember previous experiences speaking to others about getting unstuck.
The great big hairy unstuck challenge is that the patterns of thought underlying the feeling of being stuck are created by value and motivation conflict. These become little ruts that we run over and over until we can’t see out of them. The path forward becomes unclear and the energy to move forward begins to stagnate.
Asking the world is a value-based mechanism that inspires motivation because it breeds new ways of thinking. This new thinking inspires and forces new opinions. (It’s important to find inspiration and create ‘fake progress.’) The biggest challenge in being stuck is finding out how to think beyond your current way of thinking. The biggest asset here is being curious — a mix of reflection and taking in new information.
The beauty of getting unstuck lies in this curiosity. It is a breeding ground for growth. It requires going out. And it requires a sense of beginners mind and honesty to see what is being presented to you with as little bias as possible. “Look to like if looking liking move” someone named Shakespeare once said.
I think the greatest value to getting unstuck is perspective shift, which is more of an art. The steps to getting unstuck that others list, are extremely helpful, and I recommend them, but I view them as descriptive, rather than prescriptive. You can get unstuck but it requires stepping beyond where you are now. And you can do that.
photos by martinak15