New ideas! Well want to get them, even if we can’t necessarily sell ’em to others. (Cuz new ideas are – ooh – scary, don’tcha know?) But this very special kind of creativity doesn’t necessarily come easy. What to do? What to do? (Hint: Read on!)

by Jane Porter

breaking-throughThe moment a great idea or solution hits you can feel like magic—like it’s been delivered whole to you by some divine being. We all hope for those moments. But what ends up happening, more often than not, is quite the opposite—we’re floundering and stuck on a problem, desperate for one of those magic breakthroughs to pull through.

Of course, there’s nothing magic about it. “Struggle and insight go together,” says David Perkins, research professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “You are not likely to achieve an insight, unless you’ve struggled with the problem some.”

In other words, breakthrough thinking is usually preceded by a lot of dead ends and bad ideas. “If you look historically at breakthroughs, the story is never just about the key insight. It’s also about what led up to it and what followed it,” says Perkins. “Typically that involves a lot of work.”


Typically, the challenges we are faced with fall into one of two categories—a technical challenge or an insights challenge. A technical challenge requires you to work through technicalities to arrive at a solution. “It’s not easy, but it doesn’t feel like an insight,” says Perkins. “It feels like climbing a mountain handhold by handhold.” An insights challenge, on the other hand can feel a lot murkier. “It’s more of a gap to get across verse a cliff to climb,” says Perkins.

Of course, arriving at a solution isn’t a matter of deciding whether you’re faced with one type of challenge or the other. “Most problems out there are a mix,” says Perkins. But trying to better characterize the challenge you’re faced with is a first step in taking a more informed approach to the solution.

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