Flexible Focus #13: Finding focus in the frames

by William Reed on August 5, 2010

Though the original idea was to encourage flexibility and open communication, the cubicle system now common in offices has ended up a symbol for the very opposite. Even Robert Propst, founder of the cubicle’s precursor “Action Office” in 1968, several decades later said that his system had been twisted into something he called monolithic insanity. FORTUNE MAGAZINE dubbed it Cubicles: The great mistake, saying that what was intended to be an open lounge-like office environment, transformed with cost efficiency over time into bright satanic offices. Ironically, the thing it spawned was ultimately disowned by its inventor.

Many people intuitively recognize that their best ideas come to them outside of the office, in cafes, while walking, or in the shower. Office meeting rooms and cubicles are rarely cited as being creative spaces. Be that as it may, employers are not likely to release their staff to spend the day at the local cafe.

When it comes to solving problems and generating ideas, the Mandala Chart offers a fresh approach that helps you find focus in the frames, and might even release you from cubicle consciousness.

Put your ideas into play

The Mandala Chart is like a tennis court for your ideas. Although you must keep the ball within the lines, the volley accelerates and tension mounts as the ball gets closer and closer to the edge, and harder and harder to return. The ace shot is comparable to the definitive idea, and the feeling of excitement is similar when you get the idea right.

The best way to experience this is to actually put your ideas into play by writing them down on the Mandala Chart, and bouncing them around on the mental court. What you see on paper may look simple, but the process triggers an invigorating mental workout that can wake up your brain and give you energy, synergy, and flexible focus.

It starts with getting off your seat and onto your feet. The connection between creativity and walking has been well recognized, both as a way of tapping into the wisdom of the body, and as an enjoyable way to commune with nature or community.

Whenever possible it is best to consider the ergonomics of your thinking environment. Despite the considerable research that has gone into making body and brain-friendly furniture, keyboards, and lighting for offices, when it comes to creativity your favorite cafe wins out over technology hands down.

While many people appreciate the rejuvenating effect of such simple getaways, the opportunity to enhance creativity is often missed, simply by failing to capture your experience and ideas on paper.

8 steps to getting your ideas on paper

Once you understand the value and attraction of working with the Mandala Chart on paper, you can increase your skills and improve your results with practice. Here are 8 steps that can help you get started. In addition to the templates provided in other articles in this series, here you can download a generic 9-frame Mandala A-Chart as a PDF or as a Word template, and a 64-frame Mandala B-Chart as a PDF or as an Excel template. These are files which you can print out, save as, or customize as you like.

  1. Decide what’s on your mind: What would you like to focus on? Where would you like greater clarity or flexibility? Even if you are not sure, committing to a theme will help you bring it into focus.
  2. Select a format for focus: Start with a 9-frame Mandala A-Chart. Do you prefer to focus your thinking with a Mandala template, or to work from a blank Mandala chart? Select your format and print out several pages as worksheets.
  3. Fill in the frames: It is important that you do some thinking and writing away from the computer in an idea-friendly environment. Get your pen moving. Make lists with bullet points or numbers, and add sketches where appropriate.
  4. Look at the whole, the parts, and the connections: Expand your thinking by transferring the themes from the 9-frame Mandala A-Chart to the 64-frame Mandala B-Chart. You do not need to fill in all 64 frames, but try to at least develop 4 sub-themes for each of the eight themes in the original Mandala A-Chart.
  5. Spend time reflecting on what you have written: Although writing down your ideas provides greater focus, real clarity comes from reflection on what you have written. Think of your Mandala notes as a tool for flexible focus and a mirror for meditation.
  6. Store your notes for easy access: As long as you store your notes where you can easily find and refine them, you can keep a file of handwritten Mandala Charts, or you can create a digital archive using the Word and Excel files provided in the download links. Digitally you may wish to organize all of your files using idea mapping software. For example, all of the articles, graphics, and downloads for this Flexible Focus Series are stored in a Webbrain which you can access at http://budurl.com/ah88
  7. Talk about or present your ideas: If you first expand and organize your ideas on paper, you will be far better prepared to talk about and present them to others. The advantage of doing this on a Mandala Chart is that your entire field of thought connected to that theme is in front of you on a single piece of paper. You can also develop your ideas by refining your notes as you talk and listen.
  8. Get traction by taking action: Organizing and talking about your ideas should build up the energy and desire to test them in action. The feedback and results you get will provide further food for thought. The interplay between thought and action gives you the traction you need to keep the wheels turning.

The Mandala Chart is a simple matrix, a set of frames for filling in the blanks. But when you actively write on it, it acts as a window letting in the light of inspiration, and serves as a mirror reflecting the wonderful possibilities that await your discovery.

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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