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blue musings on problem solving

August 20, 2010

I’m on the cusp of leaving a fire sign for an earth sign, but I’m still in a Blue mood. I’ve been digging down deep, excavating long-obscured parts of myself, evaluating what to keep and what to let go of. Many long-held interests are converging and synergizing in unexpected ways. But other subjects that I thought might be ongoing interests are fading from view. Which usually means I adopted them for the wrong reasons.I hope at some point I will learn to pursue new topics of interest because I wish to know about them, not because I’m trying to please others.

I am working through thinking and writing exercises in a new book, Refuse to Choose! by Barbara Sher, and I made some important discoveries about myself and what I need. The task was to identify what she calls (1) Rewards: the payoff(s) you receive when you are engaged in activities you enjoy; and (2) Durations: how long those activities remain enjoyable, and under what circumstances do they stop being enjoyable. I realized that for me there are four essential components, and a fifth optional component, to projects I have thoroughly enjoyed working on:

  • A community of original thinkers, researchers, innovators that act as resources;
  • A structured setting where ideas are shared, brainstorming occurs, and collaborations are explored;
  • The subject matter is something I know a fair amount about, and am interested in;
  • Tangible results are required  — papers, reports, posters, maps or map series, etc. — especially those that allow me to conceptualize or design something new, something that only I could potentiate;
  • An opportunity to present and explain my solution to the problem.

Projects that do not include these four (or five) components are projects that I will not wish to do. I will not be able to bring my best efforts to bear; I will be unmotivated and experience many difficulties. And when they are complete, I will not feel satisfied. When I think of them, it will be with aggravation and annoyance.

I need problems to solve, but they have to be challenging in certain ways, and not in others. Creative or unorthodox solutions have to be welcomed. If a job requires standard protocols that must be followed inflexibly in all situations, with no room for individual interpretation, modification, or creative reimagining, that is a job a robot could do, and it is not a job I can enjoy. No matter what I’m doing, my voice and my viewpoint need to be represented and respected. I can’t blend into the background.

Now, what sorts of jobs supply these sorts of problems?

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