“’Couldn’t we at least…?’ is the beginning of all progress.” This is what Dean James Ryan says in his 2016 commencement speech at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The speech is called “Good Questions” and it’s well worth a full listen. The next time your team is stuck, either because consensus can’t be reached or because the solutions are not yet clear, start out with “Couldn’t we at least…?” and see where it takes you. As Dean Ryan wisely puts it: “This is the question to ask that will enable you to get unstuck, as they say. It’s what enables you to get past disagreement to some consensus, as in couldn’t we at least agree that we all care about the welfare of students, even if we disagree about strategy? It’s also a way to get started when you’re not entirely sure where you will finish, as in couldn’t we at least begin by making sure that all kids have the chance to come to school healthy and well-fed?” Continue reading Couldn’t we at least…?
These days we tend to be so visual and so cerebral. How we experience the world is dominated by what we see and what we’re thinking about at any given time. If you find yourself with a bad case of writer’s block or painter’s block or problem-solver’s block, switching to your other senses for a while can be a powerful way to open yourself back up to creativity. Go for a 30 minute walk with the mission of “finding” the most interesting sound you can. Is it powerlines crackling at the end of a cul-de-sac? Is it cars passing through a short tunnel? Is it a crazy warbly bird call? Try it. I promise you that walking around this way makes the whole world feel different. And when the whole world is different, the thing that had you stuck will probably look different too. (You can do the exact same thing trying to “find” the most interesting smell or texture. Most interesting taste? Ehh, not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, but who knows!) Continue reading What is the most interesting sound I can “find” on a short walk?
Maybe you’re like me. If I’m not sure what new project I should focus on or what next strategic business move to make, sometimes I can get bogged down in trying to plan too far into the future. I can obsess about the details – details that will probably change soon anyway. I can lose a whole day in planning contingencies. In those times, it always helps me get moving again to ask simply: “What’s the next right thing?” That’s all you can ever really do anyway. The next right thing.
Continue reading What’s the next right thing?
Before you start answering this question, get a pen, a few sheets of paper, and a smartphone (or other way of timekeeping.) Give yourself 5 minutes to invent as many uses for a brick as you can. And go! Don’t self-censor much at all. Any use of a brick goes onto your list. As the uses get more and more unorthodox (a veggie masher! a laptop stand!) you’ll be moving your mode of thinking “outside the box.” After 5 minutes answering this question, go back to the activity you were stuck on. You’ll have new eyes for the problem. Continue reading What is everything you can do with a brick?
When you feel energized, use that feeling as a compass. If writing in your journal makes you feel more energized then you should be writing more. If teaching your neighbors how to build tables energizes you then you should be teaching more. If working on your photography side hustle energizes you then you should be working on it more. Take this compass VERY seriously. Continue reading What activities / work / projects are giving you energy right now? How can you give them more oxygen?
No joke, this question will change your life if you learn how to ask it regularly and act on it. Any time you feel the urge to procrastinate, ask this question. The answer will be: “Well I can start a word doc and give it a title,” or “I can look up gyms on Google maps,” or “I can go find a piece of paper and make a list of 2 things.” The goal is to find the SMALLEST thing and to do just that thing. No more. Do it again the next day. Things will change. Continue reading What is literally THE SMALLEST possible thing I can do that will move this project/task/goal forward?
As creators, often when we’re stuck it’s because there are actually TOO many possibilities out there. There are TOO many directions we can go with a project or piece of work. The blank page is too blank. This is the perfect time to ask yourself what kinds of constraints you could put into place. Maybe you say: For this sketch, I’m not allowed to lift my pen from the paper until it’s done. For this short story, all the action happens in a single room. For this new online business, let’s imagine that it has to succeed without relying at all on Google search results. Constraints can be freeing. Continue reading What constraints can I put on this?
What could’ve been made better? If they were still alive, what would they be making today?
Asking these questions will help you push further in an area you already love. If you’re stuck for a next project idea, why not team up (if only in spirit) with the people who have created the work you respect most? Continue reading Think about your favorite work and your creative heroes. What did they miss? What didn’t they make?