The value of being ‘stuck’.

It’s a word we don’t use much because it’s seen to be a weakness.
Being stuck.
I’m stuck.
Great word. Phonetically, it actually sounds like something coming to an abrupt halt. Stuck!

In our daily endeavours we seek out fluid motion. Effortlessness. Nobody likes to stagnate, or be stopped for any reason other than their own.
But do we ever really analyse a situation closely enough to know when and why it’s not progressing? Maybe there’s a reason and maybe there’s something bigger to be learned beyond the ‘stuck’.

I came across this lucid description of ‘being stuck’ when I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.
The context of the excerpt is him trying to explain to his young son what being stuck is, when the boy complains that he doesn’t know where or how to begin writing his mother a letter.

Zen and the art“Okay,” I say. I tell him getting stuck is the commonest trouble of all. Usually, I say, your mind gets stuck when you’re trying to do too many things at once. What you have to do is try not to force words to come. That just gets you more stuck. What you have to do now is separate out the things and do them one at a time. You’re trying to think of what to say and what to say first at the same time and that’s too hard. So separate them out. Just make a list of all the things you want to say in any old order. Then later we’ll figure out the right order.

Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors. It’s this understanding of Quality as revealed by stuckness which so often makes self-taught mechanics so superior to institute-trained men who have learned how to handle everything except a new situation.”

Yes. Exactly. Well said.
I’ve always seen our business of commercial creativity as a bit of a puzzle solving business. Multiple variables laid out and the job is to pull everything apart, and reframe it in a way that’s true to the objective, but original in its thinking and approach.
It’s not an easy task, as the variables do what variable do best. Change.
I’ve often observed creative and strategic people ‘stuck’ and have myself been stuck over quite a few of these emotionally charged puzzles.

There’s a lot of simple wisdom in his words that I welcome into our day to day.
First, the pragmatic reality of don’t do too much at once and expect not to be confused. Ring any bells? If you can’t focus, chances are you won’t solve it.
Secondly, Don’t force it. Another classic – deadlines, creativity by gunpoint, etc – Time is important and we have less of it. More reason to pay respect to his first point. Don’t fragment the little time you have.

And then just separating it into pieces. The stimulus. The response. The objective. The approach. The execution. Don’t muddle it up. The skeleton works best on the inside.

The part about respecting those trained on the job not in an academic space. is another story altogether. I’d just leave it at let’s respect those with real hours on the ground. They’ve earned it the hard way.

All this is good advice for any creative person who’s trying to crack something. The rest of the book is well worth the read.
At the very least, it takes you on a vivid motorcycle tour of America and will slow you down enough to take in the scenery of the bigger picture.




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