A Three Pipe Problem

“It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.” – Sherlock Holmes

Holmes had his ritual for digging into difficult problems caused by the London criminal element. Sit in one’s thinking chair, pull out the pipe, load it up, smoke, and tell Watson to shut up. At least those were the exterior elements of his approach to contemplation. Inside, no doubt, it was a combination of: questioning, envisioning various possibilities, questioning some more, remembering other solutions, and testing the results with his gut. He knew his process and he knew roughly how long he would need to ponder: 60 minutes equates to about 3 refillings of his pipe.

What is your process when you are stumped with a problem? First of all, do you sit down right then and there with determination to find your answers or do you head for the hills (i.e. the television, shopping, eating)?  You don’t run or ignore, great! That’s the first step. Do you have a second step? Determine where you want to do your three pipe work. Do you want to go for a walk? Is there a coffee shop, a church, or some other refuge for you? If you do not seek refuge, do you have the courage to tell your Watson to shut up for an hour? Your Watson might be your Blackberry, your spouse, children, beloved dog, or phone.

Step three: Do you have something to fiddle with during your contemplation time? What is your pipe? A pipe sometimes is just a pipe but you might try: worry beads, a stress ball, knitting, guitar playing, drumming on the arm of your chair.

How honed are your skills of contemplation? Do you know how to question yourself hard about your creative work? What about turning down your favored approach of looking at your work and instead try turning up as many different perspectives as you can imagine. Sit down, squeeze your stress ball, close your eyes, and see your creative work inside and out, and upside down.

Wait, don’t rush. Test with your gut. Get your answers and then, and only then,  jump up and tell your Watson of your amazing discoveries.

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