If you’re anything like me, you love stretching yourself with each new iteration of your creative process.
But with every new variable comes a learning curve with the potential to derail your project.
This is especially the case when we’re trying to create something using unfamiliar tools, techniques or technology.
Let's call these the 3T's for brevity.
My struggles with the 3T's
Over the last two or three years, I’ve grappled with a lot of unfamiliar 3T’s as I’ve worked to get to grips with book-binding and paper engineering techniques.
So much about these processes are new to me: The book format, the materials, the mechanisms, the order of doing things.
I'm constantly having to make decisions when I don't really have the experience to know if they are good ones.
At times it’s felt overwhelming.
But along with maintaining step-by-step checklists of my processes, I’ve implemented another technique which helps me offset problems before they happen.
As a result, I’m emerging out the other side of this learning curve with a much more efficient and robust creative workflow than I had before.
Because this technique has been so useful for me - and some of the clients I’ve shared it with - I want to share it with you.
Troubleshooting Complex Projects
I’ve found that the key to avoiding time-consuming problems further into a project, is to have a long hard think before leaping in.
This is not normally my strong point! My natural inclination is to jump in and deal with any roadblocks on the fly.
But I have to recognise that since I’ve been doing this, I’m saving myself a ton of wasted time.
7 Step Troubleshooting Process
The great thing about this process is that it works equally well whether we're dealing with problems that are hypothetical or real.
So we can follow the same fundamental steps whether we’re trying to anticipate potential problems at the start of a project or dealing with a real issue that comes up part way through.
Here’s a detailed overview of the process. You can also download a handy checklist pack. (Link at the end of the post.)
1. Map potential problems
The first and most important step is to brainstorm all the possible sticking points you might encounter.
Use anything from a simple list to a mind-map to record the answers. You just want to quickly bring to the surface of your consciousness as many facets of the problem as possible - from technical to emotional.
2. Verbalise the problems
Talking about problems out loud helps you get to grips with them.
If you have a patient and perceptive partner, friend, or associate, ask them to set aside a short time for you to bend their ear.
Alternatively, just write it all down.
3. Find analogies for the problems
Find an analogy for what you're trying to understand. It doesn't have to be an exact match as long as it works in broad terms.
For example I was talking to my other half about issues I was experiencing in devising a short course on the 8 Habits.
I was trying to explain that the 8 Habits don't need to be used in equal proportions. For example, we work to Develop our Skills on a daily basis. But, although Interacting with the Art World is also very important, we don’t necessarily need to do it every day.
To explain what I meant, I came up with the analogy of a bread recipe.
The analogy isn’t a perfect fit. Bread doesn't need eight ingredients. But it’s close enough. The essential ingredients are disproportionate to each other - masses of flour to a tiny amount of salt, for example.
(You can use the analogy method both as a standalone step or in conjunction with 2.)
4. Break the problems down
One of the most important steps in dealing with something complex is to break it down into bite-size bits.
We've been told this a thousand times yet it's amazing how often we still neglect to do it and then wonder why we're stuck!
Once you've broken the problem down, describe each bit in the simplest way possible - as if you were explaining it to a child.
You're probably going to need to write this down but you could also use images to lock the ideas in your head.
5. Get distance from the problem
You can do this after the previous steps or at any stage between.
All the usual tricks work here:
Our subconscious is extremely effective at devising solutions once we give it some material to work on, but it needs some quiet time to do it in.
6. Record the solutions
Once you're subconscious has done its job, you'll likely have an 'aha' moment about the soloution(s) to your problems.
Whether the solution is simple or there are multiple layers or strands, you'll want to write it down. This cements the ideas in your brain.
7. Create an action plan
Once you have your list of possible sticking points, create a plan of action to either avert them altogether or minimise their impact if they do happen. Decide when and how you’ll implement your solutions.
This is not as complex as it might sound. The sticking points are often quite obvious when you look for them. And the solutions probably don’t involve rocket science either.
And example of one I dealt with recently was how to scale down a figure drawing so it was small enough to use as part of a postcard-sized moving mechanism.
My eyesight isn’t what it was and there’s just no way I can draw that small these days.
(Makes me laugh because I used to LOVE working small but these days I long for BIG!)
My solution was to scan and print my drawing smaller, and collage it onto my design. The old me would have definitely tried to draw it weeny! Hours of drawing something minutely detailed averted.
Save time and stress
So, by spending a bit of time identifying and solving potential pitfalls in your creative projects before leaping in, you can save yourself a lot of time and make your creative process a lot smoother and more enjoyable.
Give the troubleshooter a go and see how it goes!
Don’t forget to download the Project Troubleshooter Pack