1. Oh no, a problem! The reaction to a problem is often a bigger problem than the problem itself. Many people avoid or deny problems until it's too late, largely because these people have never learned the appropriate emotional, psychological, and practical responses. A problem is an opportunity. The happiest people welcome and even seek out problems, meeting them as challenges and opportunities to improve things. Definition: a problem is (1) seeing the difference between what you have and what you want or (2) recognizing or believing that there is something better than the current situation or (3) an opportunity for a positive act. Seeking problems aggressively will build confidence, increase happiness, and give you a better sense of control over your life.
2. It can't be done. This attitude is, in effect, surrendering before the battle. By assuming that something cannot be done or a problem cannot be solved, a person gives the problem a power or strength it didn't have before. And giving up before starting is, of course, self fulfilling. But look at the history of solutions and the accompanying skeptics: man will never fly, diseases will never be conquered, rockets will never leave the atmosphere. Again, the appropriate attitude is summed up by the statement, "The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer."
3. I can't do it. Or There's nothing I can do. Some people think, well maybe the problem can be solved by some expert, but not by me because I'm not (a) smart enough, (b) an engineer, or (c) a blank (whether educated, expert, etc.) Again, though, look at the history of problem solving.
Who were the Wright brothers that they could invent an airplane? Aviation engineers? No, they were bicycle mechanics. The ball point pen was invented by a printer's proofreader, Ladislao Biro, not a mechanical engineer. Major advances in submarine design were made by English clergyman G. W. Garrett and by Irish schoolmaster John P. Holland. The cotton gin was invented by that well known attorney and tutor, Eli Whitney. The fire extinguisher was invented by a captain of militia, George Manby. And so on. In fact, a major point made by recent writers about corporate excellence is that innovations in industry almost always come from individuals (not research groups) outside of the area of the invention. General Motors invented Freon, the refrigeration chemical, and tetraethyl lead, the gasoline additive. Kodachrome was invented by two musicians. The continuous steel casting process was invented by a watchmaker (fooling around with brass casting). Soap making chemists turned down the problem of inventing synthetic detergents: those detergents were invented by dye making chemists. In a nutshell, a good mind with a positive attitude and some good problem solving skills will go far in solving any problem. Interest in and commitment to the problem are the keys. Motivation--a willingness to expend the effort--is more important than laboratory apparatus. And remember that you can always do something. Even if you cannot totally eradicate the problem from the face of the earth, you can always do something to make the situation better.
4. But I'm not creative. Everyone is creative to some extent. Most people are capable of very high levels of creativity; just look at young children when they play and imagine. The problem is that this creativity has been suppressed by education. All you need to do is let it come back to the surface. You will soon discover that you are surprisingly creative.
5. That's childish. In our effort to appear always mature and sophisticated, we often ridicule the creative, playful attitudes that marked our younger years. But if you solve a problem that saves your marriage or gets you promoted or keeps your friend from suicide, do you care whether other people describe your route to the solution as "childish?" Besides, isn't play a lot of fun? Remember that sometimes people laugh when something is actually funny, but often they laugh when they lack the imagination to understand the situation.
6. What will people think? There is strong social pressure to conform and to be ordinary and not creative.
Here are some overheard examples:
Creative Person: "I like to put water in my orange juice so it's less sweet." Ordinary Person: "You're weird, you know?"
Ordinary Person: "What are you doing?" Creative Person: "We're painting our mailbox." Ordinary Person: "You're crazy."
Creative Person: "Why don't we add a little garlic?" Ordinary Person: "Because the recipe doesn't call for garlic."
Ordinary Person: "Why are you going this way? It's longer." Creative Person: "Because I like the drive." Ordinary Person: "Did anyone ever tell you you're strange?" The constant emphasis we see in society is toward the ruthlessly practical and conformist. Even the wild fashions, from those in Vogue to punk rock, are narrowly defined, and to deviate from them is considered wrong or ridiculous. Some peoples' herd instinct is so strong that they make sheep look like radical individualists. So, what will people think? Well, they're already talking about you, saying that your nose is too big or your shoes are funny or you date weird people. So, since others are going to talk about you in unflattering ways anyway, you might as well relax and let your creativity and individualism flow.
Almost every famous contributor to the betterment of civilization was ridiculed and sometimes even jailed. Think about Galileo. And look what happened to Jesus. Quotation: "Progress is made only by those who are strong enough to endure being laughed at." Solutions are often new ideas, and new ideas, being strange, are usually greeted with laughter, contempt, or both. That's just a fact of life, so make up your mind not to let it bother you. Ridicule should be viewed as a badge of real innovative thinking. 7. I might fail. Thomas Edison, in his search for the perfect filament for the incandescent lamp, tried anything he could think of, including whiskers from a friend's beard. In all, he tried about 1800 things. After about 1000 attempts, someone asked him if he was frustrated at his lack of success. He said something like, "I've gained a lot of knowledge--I now know a thousand things that won't work."
Fear of failure is one of the major obstacles to creativity and problem solving. The cure is to change your attitude about failure. Failures along the way should be expected and accepted; they are simply learning tools that help focus the way toward success. Not only is there nothing wrong with failing, but failing is a sign of action and struggle and attempt-much better than inaction. The go-with-the- flow types may never fail, but they are essentially useless to humanity, nor can they ever enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes after a long struggle.
Suppose you let your fear of failure guide your risk taking and your attempts. You try only three things in a year because you are sure of succeeding. At the end of the year the score is: Successes 3, Failures 0. Now suppose the next year you don't worry about failing, so you try a hundred things. You fail at 70 of them. At the end of the year the score is Successes 30, Failures 70. Which would you rather have--three successes or 30--ten times as many? And imagine what 70 failures will have taught you. Proverb: Mistakes aren't fun, but they sure are educational.
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