While studying jazz guitar at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, I had the privilege to study with the legendary Mick Goodrick.
As a young and hungry musician, I was especially frustrated at one point after reaching a seemingly impossible plateau. Goodrick offered profound advice on how to overcome my deeply technical musical problem: Go feed the pigeons.
After a double take and a chuckle (to imply that I got the joke he was obviously making), he proceeded to profess his wisdom.
He explained that I was stuck on a specific issue and was attacking the problem in a single-minded, myopic way. I needed outside perspective, a fresh approach. I needed to explore new patterns that could not be found by simply staring at the intricacies of the task at hand.
Music, he explained, is an expression of life. Staff paper, cramped practice rooms and metronomes didn’t provide a muse for creative expressive.
He told me to get away from the technical and discover the wonder and magic of the world. To expand my world view and to explore ideas far outside my comfort zone. In fact, he refused to meet with me again for a month. He said I needed time to breathe.
Man, was he right.
The solution to my highly technical problem had nothing to do with technique. By looking at the problem from a completely different lens, I was able to discover an entirely fresh approach. When I returned to my next lesson, I was beaming with pride as I shared the news of my accomplishment. After a long, reflective pause and a deep breath, Goodrick looked at me with the steeliness of a monk and simply said: “Look, kid. Sometimes you just gotta feed the pigeons.”
Each of us gets stuck on a particular problem at one point or another. To unleash our best creative thinking, putting more energy into the same approach may not be the best strategy.
In the words of creativity expert Edward deBono, “You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.” To harness the power of our imagination, we must explore before solving.
From a practical standpoint, go read a magazine in a totally different field.
Watch a movie or documentary that you’d never ordinarily view. Go to a game of a sport you’ve never seen. Take an alternative route to work. Make it a point to meet people from a different walk of life. The time you spend away from the problem will actually enable you to solve it.
By breaking old patterns of thought, you’ll allow new ones to emerge. Tackle your challenges from a new vantage point, and you’ll likely pioneer a fresh solution. The next time you’re really stuck? Go feed the pigeons.