The Digital Journalist
Solving Problems
September 2004

by David H. Lyman

I teach young people to be professional, to be proactive and not reactive, to get off their behinds and go out and embrace the world. I'm not always successful with some of today's crop of high school students, but I try. Problem-solving is one lesson I lead off with. Here's a handout I provide, that goes along with a lecture and assignments.

A lot of photography and filmmaking is nothing more than an opportunity to solve problems. Most of our creative and professional lives are spent solving problems. That's what you are hired to do - to solve problems. Learning how to handle, face and overcome problems is one of our most important lessons in life.

Develop an ability to confront problems early, while they are still young and can be solved easily. Embrace problems as opportunities. Working through problems is what life is all about. Do not ignore problems; do not run away or hide from them, hoping they will go away. Face them, no matter how difficult they appear. Problems only get worse with time.

Here are a few tips for dealing with problems:

- Develop a positive attitude toward problems - problems are just opportunities to learn something new.

- Seek out problems. Do not wait for problems to find you. A problem sought out is more easily solved. Problems which find you are already on their way to being difficult to handle.

- Isolate each problem. Take one problem at a time. Take apart each problem and look at it as a bunch of smaller problems. Small problems are more easily solved.

- Define each problem. Once defined, the solution is generally right around the corner.

- Sleep on your problem. Define it, then let it go. Sleep on it and the solution is often waiting for you in the morning.

- Take a walk. Put each problem in perspective. Is this problem really as consequential as you make it out to be?

- Meditate. Relax, let go, give your creative brain time to ponder the problem. What's the rush?

- Seek out help. Look for, ask and accept advise. Do research. Read. Ask others for help. This is the one thing I find the most difficult to do. I have to keep telling myself, "You cannot solve all the problems yourself; ask for help."

- Explore your personal blocks, those attitudes which stand in the way of achieving success. Are you a pessimist? Do you suffer from low self-esteem? Are you afraid of making a mistake? Of being wrong? Of embarrassment? Of standing out in a crowd? These are all character traits which stand in the way of successful problem-solving.

- Use a "what if?" approach. Play with the problem. Come up with a number of possible solutions. There are many ways to skin a cat; some ways are more effective than others. Find the best method for you.

- Develop tools, skills and attitudes for problem-solving.

Once you have begun to solve small problems, you will develop a more positive attitude about solving all problems. You may find yourself actually going out in search of problems, just so you can use your newly developed tools.

© David H. Lyman

David H. Lyman is the director of The Maine Photographic Workshops, an internationally-known summer center for the world's photographers, journalists and filmmakers. He founded The Workshops in 1973 and The International Film Workshops in 1975. In 1996, he established Rockport College as a conservatory for the world's storytellers and imagemakers, offering a range of career degrees and programs. He is now the president of that college. David is an adventurer: a solo sailor, photographer, filmmaker, writer and entrepreneur. He lectures and writes on the creative process and "Transformational Learning Experiences," as well as raises two small children with his English wife, Julie.