Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sleep on it

Last night as I was watching the Alabama football team go down in defeat, I was going down to defeat at the hands of a spreadsheet I had been so proud of. It was a masterpiece in the art of taking a paperwork nightmare imposed from the State Department of Education and turning it into a simple, paperless procedure.

The fly in the ointment was a formula--one formula. I knew what I wanted to happen but didn't know of an Excel formula which would do it. A Google search revealed other people searching for exactly the same formula, but it seemed what I wanted didn't exist.

As the the 4th quarter was drawing to a close, an idea occurred to me that would work. It wasn't elegant. It wasn't pretty. But, it would work. Two to three hours was a good estimate of the time required to make the needed adjustments--major adjustments. As the ga,e proceeded into overtime, I realized I was looking at a task which would require far more time and energy than was available. As the opposing team scored the winning touchdown, I was making notes about where I would pick up in the morning. Then, I went to bed.

How many times in our lives have we been given the advice to "sleep on it"? While I slept, evidently my brain kept working--and did so at a very creative level. The next morning, I awoke with another idea to solve the "missing formula" problem. This one was elegant, very elegant. Better yet, the modifications took exactly five minutes to make. Best of all, the solution worked!

Tomorrow, I am meeting with one of my favorite people in the education world. Last spring she had described to me how she had papers scattered all over her living room floor in an attempt to tackle this one report. It was not a pretty picture! I can't wait to see her reaction when we go over how this spreadsheet works and I give her a copy of it.

I guess this story has two morals. The first is that when confronted with the paper avalanche, we must train ourselves to look to technology for a solution. So often, it's there. The second message is perhaps there is something to handing over our problems to our creative subconscious. Perhaps it is the force which can take today's insurmountable problems and turn them into tomorrow's solutions.
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