The Fly

James Cameron on problem-solving from a higher perspective:

I had an epiphany while I was writing Avatar. I was working down in New Zealand, and I was just having a… it was just impossible to solve some of the dramatic problems. I couldn’t solve it, I couldn’t fix the script. And I just walked away, I sat down outside.

There was a glass cover to the veranda, and I watched this big fly — he was trying to get out, and he was banging against the glass. He just kept hitting the glass, over and over and over, because that’s how his little chip was programmed: you go toward the light, you go toward the sky. And he couldn’t get to the sky. All he had to do was drop down, fly three feet sideways and come out, but he couldn’t process it.

And I thought, How often am I that fly? How often is there some higher level of perspective that I lack in my chip, that I’m missing, that is so simple — that some fourth-dimensional being could look at the problem and go, “Oh, you idiot, you just drop down, go over three feet, and you’re out!” But the fly couldn’t do it.

And I thought, “What am I not seeing?” And that’s when I went back to first principles. I looked at the whole thing from a higher level. I got out of the trenches, for that moment, and that’s how I solved the problem.