You have to keep a dozen of your favourite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or red a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”
— Richard Feynmann
My brain has two modes: the conscious “frying pan” of my attention and the unconscious “slow cooker” of my subconscious.
Day-to-day, my attention is in frying pan mode. It’s sharply focused on what what I need to get done for the day. Banging out words. Checking off tasks.
But I’m also learning to let my subconscious stew creative problems in the back burner. I pay attention to what I pay attention to. I save resources, notes, and ideas for some future time. I let large, non-urgent projects sit idle for days, weeks, or months. I slowly adding resources and thoughts to them as they come, until the moment I’m ready to activate them. And put them on the frying pan.
This list of questions are the big-picture slow-cooker questions that have haunted me for years.
These questions let me focus on my values and my priorities. These questions categorize virtually everything that interests me. Having everything in one list lets me me prioritize and sequence projects, get an overview of the areas of my life, and remind myself of the topics that I deeply care about. It’s the litmus test to see if a project is something I really want to do or something I just feel obligated to do.
These questions let me go deep without forgetting the big picture. I might go deep into a rabbit hole. Or obsess about a new skill. Or take a course. This list makes sure I can focus deeply without forgetting the over-arching question I’m trying to answer.
These questions remind me to focus on solving problems. It’s easy for me to get into the mindset of “I’ll be happy if…” This list reminds me that no decision will ever be problem-free. Ultimately, this list reminds me that a free life isn’t about avoiding problems. That freedom is being able to pick which problems I want to have in life.
Here are my 12 favourite problems, in no particular order:
- What does it mean to be a Christian who has a tender heart and a theological backbone of steel?
- What does it mean to be “in the world, but not of the world”?
- How do I build a humane, people-first business empire, as Paul Jarvis and Dale Partridge call it? I want a business that blesses my employees and customers, a business that I would want to work for.
- What does it look like to master marketing in a way that prioritizes the receiver of the marketing messages, marketing that is based on fundamental principles, rather than time- and tech-sensitive strategies and tactics?
- What does agape love – to fully love someone – look like?
- Why can’t non-profit organizations — like churches — function more like profitable, for-purpose businesses?
- What does wealth look like/mean for me?
- How do I build wealth my way?
- What does it look like when I stop trying to please everyone and worrying about what other people think?
- What are the problems I want to solve and can best solve in the world?
- What would happen if I applied my experience in competitive swimming to ultimate frisbee?
- What does my best look like as an athlete?