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Oct 9, 2008

Problem Solving

I greatly value people's ability to solve problems. It brings me great pleasure to see how an unexpected solution emerges. There is a little bit of magic in it – just by thinking about some problem or difficulty in a different way, people are able to overcome the problem or difficulty. Just by thinking. When I see a new gadget or a piece of software, or just a simple thing like a tool or an office form, I always look at a clever idea, at an elegant solution. And when it is there, I feel a strong connection to the unknown to me person whose mind created something out of nothing; some value out of an idea. It is also makes my day or even a week, when I find such a solution, or am helping someone else to find it. The occasion for this was a really simple solution for one organizational problem; the nature of it is really unimportant. My colleague actually found it, and I was just able to contribute to it a little. It may still not work, but it just felt great. So, I am sharing my joy.

An elegant solution is not always possible. We live with some problems for years and years, and nothing seems to be working. Or we have only small, weak, unoriginal and temporary fixes. Or we employ ugly solutions which are too wasteful, or harmful, or just …ugly. And when I see people doing something without an attempt at originality, it irritates me. It also bugs me when I am unable to figure out a way out of a dead end, big or small. And it happens very often.

I am not sure if this makes any sense, but this looking for good ideas in other people's lives and in my own is what really makes me tick. It is addictive and not always productive, because it often makes sense just to leave things alone. Not every problem deserves solving. Not every known thing needs improvement. A hammer is a hammer, and yet my heart sings when I see a clever hammer design in a hardware store. Observing and experiencing creativity is the most profound and also a very strange pleasure.

Oleg Gazman, a wonderful Russian educator is credited with the motto "Every action must be creative, otherwise why bother?" Is this an overstatement? Perhaps; he was just placing a lot of emphasis on creativity, because it empowers children, gives them the sense of agency, and also ultimately helps them to learn and mature. I.P.Ivanov, S.A.Shmakov, O.A.Gazman and other founders of the Communard's Movement elevated creativity to the level of a moral value, not just a skill or preference. In their eyes, one must be a problem solver, and a creative thinker. It is not a choice, but an obligation. Creativity is, of course, is really an aesthetic, not an ethical ideal. Yet somehow it makes sense to me. That is where my search for creative ideas probably comes from: many of my teachers were connected to the movement. I am not making any value claims here, just trying to explain myself. It is not motivated by the ego, not at all. In fact, it is just as much fun to observe human creativity as it is to engage in it. I am not overly concerned with work efficiency (although it does enter my reasoning, for the obvious reasons). It is just the appreciation of the process. I just love to see those elegant solutions hatch and grow, and love to contribute. Creative work is double fun when it is collective. So, it was a good week.

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