It’s always fun to putter around your self-built workshop in your garage (or den in your apartment or desk in your cubicle) and make things, but the real test of your problem-solving comes when you need to make something. You have a problem and a conventional retail product just won’t do. Perhaps you have no money to buy said product (a more likely scenario) and you must rely on your wits and a scrap bin to deliver you.
I’m reminded of an old story that I can’t remember the source of, which spoke of impoverished families in Africa that would spend all day gathering firewood so they could cook food. Firewood was scarce and this process of survival was imperative—no wood, no one eats. It was then someone developed a methane gas stove that could be fueled by manure that was found everywhere. Now the families could eat and stay warm after spending very little time gathering cow chips. It must have been a Godsend.
Our problems aren’t as life or death (despite what it feels like) I realize, but our drive to solve is no less tangible. Maybe obsession is a better word. I remember a time when I had to get an audio mixer to work with a video switcher or risk a lot more post-production overhead. I kept going around and around on a solution that seemed impossible, but my brain refused to let go. At the last minute, it came together, almost as the result of sheer willpower.
When working with spare parts to solve a given problem, it’s often the not-the-best-quality, jury-rigged contraption that fits the bill. But that’s not the point. The point is that we seem to be at our creative best when the solution is less of an option and more of a demand on creative impulses. It’s these times when we stand out and really create something of value. Even if it is made of junk.