Sometimes problems aren't complicated, they just take time and effort

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Sometimes the most useful thing is a phrase or story that crystallises a thought or idea. Here are three that work for me.

I once worked for a media director who’d been well-trained to never talk about problems, only opportunities. Talking about how the internet might change everything, he said: "We need to be careful, we’re walking into a minefield of opportunities."

I love that – the idea that, wherever you step, an opportunity might go off in your face. That’s what the media world feels like today.

Michael Slaby put the technology team together for the 2012 Obama election campaign. He decided that the team needed to be internal rather than contracted from the outside.

In a magnificent article in The Atlantic, he said assembling the team was mostly just about taking the time and making the effort: "You have to develop new trust with people. It’s just change management. It’s not complicated; it’s just hard."

I love that too. So much of what we have to deal with looks like a complicated problem – as if there would be a quick solution if only we could simplify and unpick it. In reality, it just requires hard work.

In the magic act Penn & Teller, it is Teller who is normally silent. Off stage, he’s incredibly articulate about his craft. An interview in Esquire last year went into great detail about the work that goes into a magic trick and Teller said: "Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect."

So much of what we have to deal with looks like a complicated problem – as if there would be a quick solution

He describes the months and months of practice devoted to developing a skill that no-one would expect him to have and the massively over-the-top preparation he and Penn put into the slightest and most throwaway of tricks.

That’s the best analogy I’ve ever heard for those craft skills that sometimes seem so wasteful. The hours of kerning, the fiddling with an edit, the painstaking selection of just the right word – sometimes that’s what it takes to make magic.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Services           
@undermanager

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