How often have you gotten stuck while looking for a new idea, or seeking the solution to a problem? When I was writing television sketch comedy, I used to have a lot of trouble coming up with endings to my sketches (endings are notoriously difficult). I’d work out a nice premise, develop it comedically, and now needed to wrap it up in a way that was surprising, funny, and quick. And that’s where I’d get stuck. It’s really the same situation you might face in your work: you have a problem, you need a solution, and you’re stuck, just like I was. But one day I happened to stumble on to a gimmick—a little mental trick—that seemed to unlock my brain and let the ideas come pouring in. And the great thing is that it’ll work for virtually any situation in which you need to generate ideas and solutions.
Here’s what I did:
I simply imagined that I had just watched my sketch being performed on another TV show (usually Saturday Night Live), and that they had come up with the perfect ending. Now all I had to do was remember what that ending was, and write it down!
So right now some of you are saying, “Yeah, but you still had to think of it, didn’t you?”
Right you are, smartypants. But this little exercise changed the game in two important ways:
- It took me out of the equation, mentally. I find that it’s often easier to imagine how others would solve a problem, particularly (although not necessarily) if these others have some expertise in the area of your problem. For example (and in keeping with the nature of this blog), if you’re in a rock band and you’re having trouble coming up with a melody line for a new song, you could do a lot worse than to ask yourself, “How would the Beatles solve this? What kind of melody would Paul McCartney come up with?” Another way to look at it, regardless of what industry you’re in, is to think to yourself (or with your team), “Let’s assume this isn’t my problem, but my competitor’s, and he/she has just come up with a brilliant solution. Now let’s just figure out what the solution was that he/she came up with!”
- It assumed that the perfect solution was already out there, and all I had to do was find it. In other words, it subconsciously took me away from an attitude of “There’s no way to end this sketch/there’s no solution to this problem” and put me in an attitude of “There is a solution out there that will perfectly resolve the problem and any related issues; it’s floating in the ether, and I just have to keep looking until I find it.”
So the next time you need an idea or a solution for a situation, try going through this little exercise. Imagine that somebody you respect has already come up with the perfect answer, and then spend some quality time with yourself or with your team asking yourself “How did they do it? How did SNL end that sketch? How did the Beatles write that song?”Share