Flexible Focus #27: In search of solutions

by William Reed on November 11, 2010

The Rubik’s Cube is a world class puzzle, invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture, Ernő Rubik. Hundreds of millions of cubes have been sold worldwide, making it the world’s bestselling puzzle.

Each face of the puzzle pivots independently, making it possible to mix and match the colors. With 8 corners and 12 edges, apparently there are billions of permutations possible in this 3x3x3 puzzle. Once the colors are mixed, this puzzle can seem almost impossible to restore to its original condition, in which each side contains only one color. Though this puzzle has probably driven millions of people to distraction, the Rubik’s Cube® official website also has a loyal global following for what it calls the Rubiverse, with videos of the world championships, world records, games, solutions, photos, events, Rubik’s TV, and even a Rubik’s Cube® iPhone App!

Known as the frustration cube by those who spend hours twisting and turning the faces in vain, apparently it is possible for the average person to solve in about 10 minutes, by following a series of steps that fit the cube’s logic, rather than random trial-and-error. There are many videos online which show kids ranging from 3 to 6 years old solving the Rubik’s Cube puzzle in times ranging from less than a minute to under two minutes. Amazingly, the world record ranges in an average of a solution in 5 to 8.52 seconds!

Lessons in flexible focus

The resemblance to a 3D Mandala Chart is striking, not only in appearance, but also in the number of possible combinations made possible with flexible focus.

Flexible focus is fast moving. The reason it is worth watching videos of high-speed solutions to the Rubik’s Cube, is that you see the mind and fingers in fast and fluid motion. Too often we become mired in our problems. Our thinking becomes stuck in slow and repetitive motion, and the body reflects it with frustrated and ineffective inaction. You are more likely to find a solution when you speed up your thinking and get into a flow state.

Flexible focus is physical. Puzzle solvers seem to be in constant motion. They find the solution with their fingers, with no separation of thought and action. One of the best ways to get engaged in the search for a solution is to get physically involved. Two activities which are particularly beneficial to problem solving are walking and writing. Walking changes your perspective and gets the blood moving. Writing gets your fingers moving and your mind engaged.

Flexible focus is multi-dimensional. High-speed puzzle masters keep the cube rotating to be able to see the process unfold from multiple angles. Although the A-Chart is a 3×3 flat matrix, it need not be two-dimensional in your mind. Moreover, you can achieve a new level of depth by expanding to the B-Chart view, with 64 cubes that can be integrated in combinations that might otherwise escape notice.

Flexible focus is fun. Rather than getting bogged down in an inflexible view of a problem, why not approach it as a puzzle? The challenge of finding a solution becomes easier when you enjoy the process. When you are faced with a problem, don’t let it hold you back, let the games begin!

From logical to artistic solutions

While the puzzle provides perspective on problem solving, the point of departure for the Mandala Chart is that in business and in life we are seldom seeking a single solution. Sometimes we have to work within logical, legal, or technical parameters. But frequently we are free to come up with solutions which are a matter of aesthetics or preference. Instead of just one solution, we have many. Instead of either/or, we have both/and.

Don’t let the simple framework of the Mandala Chart fool you. Approach it with a Mandala mindset of flexible focus and it becomes a tool which is as exciting and engaging as the puzzle. Even more so, because the solutions lead to greater freedom and flexibility in life.

Reading and thinking about the Mandala Chart will get you started. But to engage the Mandala mindset, you need to write down and sketch your ideas, then put them into practice. Regardless of artistic talent, simply illustrating your thoughts can set your visual imagination in motion. It can also help trigger visual metaphors, which can clarify your thinking and improve your ability to communicate ideas. I explore this further in a separate article entitled, Sketch Your Ideas. It all begins by putting your pen to paper.

Taking the Quantum Leap

Most of time we barely scratch the surface in searching for solutions. Ask people to come up with a list of possible solutions to a problem, and you will find that most of the time it is a very short list indeed. A band-aid solution may temporarily cover the problem, but not cure it.

Einstein said that, “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We need to take a Quantum Leap to a new level of thinking if we want to come up with a solution.

Get the elements of the equation on paper. Then like the high-speed puzzle, twist, turn, and manipulate them in all kinds of permutations. Get yourself into a flow state and watch the solutions emerge. The subconscious mind is smarter than we think. It even works while we sleep, which is why solutions sometimes emerge after sleeping on a problem. Mix and match the elements, and let the creative process work its magic.

As a reminder to engage your thinking at a different level, download a copy of the SEARCH FOR SOLUTIONS Mandala, and start putting your pen to paper.

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