Joe Lesko | Blog | creativity, programming, and design

Little Idea Elves

In the story of the Elves and the Shoemaker, a tired old shoemaker lays out pieces of shoe leather on his workbench and then goes to bed.

In the middle of the night, elves appear out of nowhere (as elves do!) and convert the shoe leather into nice, top-quality shoes.

I like this story because I often get a kind of “magical help” when I work on creative problems.

During the day, I will mull over a design or coding problem and eventually get stuck, going around in circles in my mind. When I realize that I'm not making any progress (which isn’t always easy to recognize), I'll set the problem aside for the rest of the day.

The next morning, I'll get my coffee and sit down in front of the laptop to revisit the problem. And ka-ching! A solution will magically appear.

Sometimes it’s a totally new idea, but often it’s a solution that I had already thought about. Maybe I had dismissed it for some reason, but now a new detail jumps out as if it should have been obvious all along.

Some might call this divine inspiration. But I just see it as the result of my subconscious mind working away at the problem as a “background task”.

Our brains have 100 billion neurons, so it’s reasonable to think our minds are capable of that, and the science is beginning to support the idea.

Either way, I’m fine with not knowing exactly how it works. I’m just happy that I can rely on it.

I'm not a shoemaker, but I guess you could say the Little Idea Elves are giving me a sole-ution.

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