If working in the agency world has taught me anything, its that you are going to be presented with some pretty challenging problems and you need to face them head-on.
But finding the solution to those problems isn't always the easiest, and it can feel pretty aggravating when you just can't solve them.
In reflecting on my trials and tribulations with learning on the job and educating myself becoming a better creative thinking, I decided to sit back down with two of our developers, Tim and Kyle to talk more.
Together, we discussed the barriers that prevent creatives from being able to solve problems, the importance of asking people for help when you just can't figure out a solution, and when it's appropriate to do so.
Why Do People Struggle To Problem Solve?
TO: Whenever you first problem solve, you have to be a little persistent. You can't just throw your hands up in the air and say, “Well, this isn't working. So, we can't do this.”
A lot of times there is a way your problem can be solved, but if you give up too soon then you're never going to find the solution to your problem.
Another reason people might struggle to problem solve is if they just simply don't have the knowledge or skill set.
You can do as much troubleshooting as you want but if you don't understand what it is you're reading then you're not going to ever past it.
Usually, a solution is going to end up being a bunch of different steps. You have to break it down into steps and go one by one. Sometimes, you will get say you know, eight out of 10 steps in and then realize, “Shoot, the ninth step doesn't work.” Or, you know, “I got to go backward.” Or, “I don't know how to move past this one step.”
You have to look at the whole problem and understand the components within it. If you're taking too many tiny steps then you're most likely going to get stuck.
When You Should Stop Troubleshooting
KS: This is going to sound kind of funny, but personally for me a warning sign it's time to either ask someone else for help is when I am typing the same thing into Google over and over again.
I've been to every single page on the first page of Google and I've looked at the same 10 Stack Overflow posts and nothing is helping. That is usually the moment where I concede.
The importance of being able to make that call is like paramount because if you're operating in a super tight type environment like we operate in. We really can't afford to be losing time like even on the minute level.
TO: Yeah. There's no specific like rule or guidelines for when it's time to give up. You sort of just know. There are definitely times similar to what Kyle said. You've visited every page and still don't have your answer. But, it’s possible you’re either looking at the wrong thing or not understanding the solutions that are being given to you.
For example, you may be looking at the answers and either doesn't understand them or don't like the answers that they're giving you. If you’re always hitting the back button and try to find an easier solution, then you need to sort of step back and look at what it is you're trying to do.
Sometimes, you just need to take a step back and look at the whole picture again and trying to figure out, “Hey, can it be done?” B, “Am I on the right path? Am I even going about this whole thing the right way?” Or, “Did I pick the wrong path and you know, I could have done it a different way that wouldn't have resulted in this problem?
You need to stop and figure out if you're even going about solving the right way. You're going to waste a lot of time if you are still trying things on attempt number 10 and still failing.
You should be deciding to ask for help is when you don't know how to troubleshoot, there is no more information to gather or your finding answers that don’t relate to your issue.
It's Okay to be Stuck, but Don't make Yourself Feel Trapped
KS: I can't tell you how many times I've sat in front of a computer for far too many hours and then been forced to take a break and then be driving somewhere and all of a sudden I have it just click into my head. For somebody like me, I really despise giving up. I will work on like into the ground and it's almost painful to take these like much-needed breaks, but they're so beneficial because they really help get rid of that tunnel vision.
TO: Yeah. I mean I definitely agree. There are so many times where I will conclude that something can't be done and then sometime later I'll just go, “Oh, wait. I'll just do it this way.” Sometimes I've concluded it is possible but it's going to be annoying and then I think, “Wait, no, no, no. I can do it this way instead.”
The more I try and focus on the problem the more likely I am to get tunnel vision. Sometimes you just need to step back and let your subconscious think about it.
Tips on Asking for Help
TO: If you need to ask for help, come prepared. Give as much information as you can but as concisely as possible. Don't be super in-depth, don't say every problem you've tried, just say what the initial problem is and as they give suggestions mention whether or not you’ve tried it.
Let the helper give suggestions and as they do, mention what you have and haven’t tried. For all you know, one of those things you tried may have been the right approach, but you needed to tweak something small. This dialogue gives those discussions a chance to happen.
Also, if you're going to someone for help, don't be prepared for them to do it for you. They may just point in the right direction. They may help you through a step by giving you the information you needed.
KS: It is still your like problem to solve. You're essentially going to somebody else like a guide to help you. You still need to have ownership of making sure that your problem gets solved and that you understand that solution. If you don’t, you'll never learn and you're going to make the same problem again.
Give Recognition to Those Who Really Helped
KS: If you're going to somebody for help and they do help you solve the problem, be sure to give them recognition either at a company meeting or on a platform like Seven Geese. That type of thing goes a long way and just helps overall for like everything companies health-wise.
TO: Of course. If you do decide to give recognition, just make sure that what that person did is worth bringing up to your boss or your company. The more unique a problem they solved, the more it makes sense to praise them. It also just looks silly if you’re recognizing someone for something small they did for you.
Bring attention to the right moments, not every moment.