In every worthwhile project, you’ll hit one or more points where it seems like you’re up against an absolute show-stopper. Maybe the challenge is technical, but just as often it’s organizational or political.
Early in my career, these would indeed feel like problems that were simply not possible to solve. Over time though, you see that things like this (a) always come up, and (b) can almost always be dealt with. And half of getting through them successfully is simply acknowledging those two things.
I don’t have any formal framework to offer here but will say that most solutions seem to come, at a high level, through a mix of:
- alternating your focus so you don’t develop tunnel-vision
- redefining the problem through shifting your perspective, identifying and challenging assumptions, playing around with tighter or looser constraints
- breaking problems up into smaller pieces, solving the smaller sub-problems, and composing them into a full solution
What that actually looks like is probably different for everybody but for me it’s: focusing intensely on the problem, then setting it aside to work on other things; drawing something on paper or a whiteboard or even using basic shapes and lines in something like PowerPoint; getting advice from a colleague; finding a way to explain the problem to somebody who has no idea what I’m talking about and then getting their input (never underestimate the value of getting input from a lot of other people); simply sitting quietly and trying not to think of anything; just sleeping on it a night or two (when that’s possible).
Also, as I write the above I realize I’m leaving out the most important thing: always push for a better and better understanding of WHY. Better clarity around why is the #1 way to change your perspective on a problem. This includes realizing you are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t need to be solved!
What’s great about all of this is that none of it requires us to have any special intelligence or creativity. It’s pretty amazing to realize how capable we all are of tackling really tough problems.