One of the best ways to learn anything is to just try a bunch of things. Arguably that’s the best way to solve problems, overcome fears, and live life as well.
When we face a block, have a desire but aren’t sure how to move on it, or when we’re frustrated or unsatisfied, the best way forward is to try a lot different things and see what sticks.
As they say: the best way to have ideas is to come up with a lot of different ideas.
As cognitive scientists put it:
“One maximizes one’s chances of obtaining exceptional ideas not necessarily by raising the average quality of ideas generated, but rather by increasing the variance of quality of generated ideas.”
But to try things—to have a lot of diversity in what we do—we first have to discover what is out there for us to try to begin with. Usually when I talk to students, or entrepreneurs, or budding artists, this is their main point of frustration: not knowing how to even begin looking at what might be possible.
Maybe you can relate. You have a problem and it feels like there’s no way around it, or you have an idea you want to make real but you just aren’t sure as to how to go about it. So how do we move around blocks, smash through problems, and make our ideas a reality?
If you look at how a toddler learns to walk, it’s usually by trial and error, but it’s also (and most importantly) a result of seeing others do it and help correct the toddler. This technique of watching and learning is how we also learn to talk, and care for ourselves, and do pretty much anything else in life.
We see others doing something and if it feels worth doing ourselves, we try it. It’s helpful to have those who know how to do it mentor us on our journey through, but I don’t believe having a mentor is required when it comes to creativity. In-fact: you might be better off without a mentor, as they tend to only stick with what they know to be true.
So if we want to get through our personal creative blocks, we need to find ways to experience or witness what others do.
The Internet makes this pretty easy: we can look to the Internet and sites like YouTube, Quora, Tumblr, or Twitter to find interesting things. But typically our pattern of exploring these spaces involves looking at what we are already inclined to like, or believe, or know. You probably don’t follow people you disagree with on Twitter, and YouTube probably doesn’t recommend you videos you might not be interested in spending 10 minutes watching.
I think there’s a better way to learn what’s possible in order to try new things. It’s this: start with curiosity and dive deep into whatever it is you’re thinking about.
In other words: look closely at what it is you want to do or solve, and ask a lot of questions about it, especially questions that might not make sense.
If you’re stuck on how to start a writing club at school or work, for example, you can look at what it means to be in a reading club and then ask questions about that. How big does the club have to be? What if it was a system of just two people paired together at random each week for reading together? Who needs to give you permission to start the reading club? If you started it with just one or two close friends or peers, would you still need the same permission? Could you do the entire club through social media, reading and sharing thoughts about blog posts instead of books? What if you did the entire club on Twitter or as a Facebook group? How could you conduct a silent group?
The more questions we ask, the more likely we are to uncover things we’ll be capable of trying. And the more things we try, the more likely we are to land on something that propels us and our ideas forward, through roadblocks or problems or looming, fearful, questions.
If you want to uncover the unknown, consider this simple combinatorial equation: combine any of your five senses with any of the five Ws.
Asking questions about the who, what, where, when, why, paired with the five senses, sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste, is a fairly simple way to explore areas and ideas you otherwise might be blind to (out of habit, routine, or fear).
The best thing you can ever do is to try a lot of different things, but to try different things we must first explore what’s possible to try. To do that: be immensely curious and ask combinatorial questions.