A simple way to get unblocked

You probably know the feeling: that project you’re working on just spins round and round; nothing moving; no new way of cracking the problem; no other route appearing.

You want the ideas to flow, but they won’t. 

The more you force them, the worse it is.

Or take a walk, take a shower, take a break.

Still no good.

Here’s something else to try.

Get bored, with constraints.


You could just get bored. This may help (as Neil Gaiman suggests when it comes to writing), but the constraints are important – especially when you’re an easily distracted soul or have other projects on the boil.

One type of constraint that can work well is a social convention.

For example, go to a talk.

It can’t be a talk on just anything – the constraints may not be strong enough to keep you there. It needs a talk on a topic you’re interested in, but where your expectations are moderate at best. 

What you’re ideally looking for is a talk on a topic adjacent to the project you’re working on. It should be the kind of thing you impulsively sign up for a couple of weeks in advance, then bail on the day before (be honest, you’ve done this).

Take a notepad and pen with you, and show up on time. You don’t want to be a late arrival, otherwise you’ll be breaking the social conventions. It’s crucial you’re part of the audience, as this reduces the chances of you leaving early or opting out.

Sit towards the back of the room, and listen to the conversation like you’d listen to music.

Don’t try too hard to listen, nor to do something else.

Wait for one of two things to happen: something you hear triggers an idea; or your interest and attention naturally wane.

If the first happens – write it. Draw it. Keep going with it.

If it’s the second – stay with it.

In either case, see where you go. You may be surprised at what shows up.

This has worked very well for me maybe a dozen times now.

Go out and try it yourself.

I just hope none of those event hosts read this.

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