Joe Lesko | Blog | creativity, programming, and design

Little Idea Elves

In the story of the Elves and the Shoemaker, an old, exhausted shoemaker leaves pieces of shoe leather out on his workbench before going to bed.

That night, elves appear out of nowhere (as they do) and create high-quality shoes for him to sell.

Like the shoemaker, I find that I also get a kind of “magical help” while working on creative problems.

During the day, I will mull over a design or coding problem. When I realize I'm stuck, going around in circles, I'll just take a break and do something else. Or better yet, go to sleep.

When I wake up the next morning, get a coffee, and sit down in front of my laptop, I immediately get unstuck.

Out of nowhere, a good solution or a new path forward will appear. I'll see something that didn’t occur to me before.

Some would call this divine inspiration. More likely, I see it as the result of my subconscious working away at the problem as a “background task” while I do other things.

With 100 billion neurons, it’s reasonable to think our brains can do that.

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

Like the shoemaker, if you patiently collect and organize the raw materials of your problem (e.g. a rough draft, possible solutions, known unknowns, etc.), then you can trust that answers will eventually come to you.

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Joe has been designing and developing games and web apps for about 20 years. He is a self-taught programmer, and creates art and games in his spare time.

He currently works as a User Experience Prototyper at Netflix, on the Interactive Design team that created Bandersnatch.