Posts Tagged ‘mandala chart’

Look at the image of black squares in rows and columns, and count how many black spots you see. While there appear to be many, in fact there are none. When we focus on the figure, we easily ignore the ground. In this optical illusion, the intersections appear to be sprinkled with black dots, which pop in and out and shift about the image with a dizzying effect, purely as a figment of our imagination.

If you calmly focus on any one of the white dots, you can clearly see that it is white, and that the black and grey dots are an illusion. If you focus on the central white dot, and gradually let your field of peripheral vision expand, you may be able to see an expanded range of dots as they are white, without any flickering dots on the screen. This is a challenging shift in focus, because it requires you to see comprehensively the big picture, the details, and the relationships all at the same time.

Easy to get lost in business

The lack of comprehensive vision causes confusion. This happens to many people who enter the world of business. Whether you are an executive or someone on a career path, if you don’t know where you are and where you are going, you may easily find yourself lost in the cross winds.

The flickering mentality leads to a pursuit of short-term profits without regard for consequences. Large organizations and governments which engage in short-sighted or greedy behavior can wreak havoc on the economy and the environment. The pursuit of the flickering dot mirage creates stress, and over time the process tends to chew people up and spit them out.

Itoh Motoshige, Professor of Economics at the University of Tokyo, says that to understand economies today we need a flexible focus, the ability to shift appropriately from the bird’s eye Macro view, to the insect’s eye Micro view for detail, and to the fish’s eye for changes and interrelationships. This is precisely the power of the Mandala Chart, which enables you to shift perspective and focus with ease.

A world of opportunity

The Mandala Chart can help us regain our bearings by seeing our business comprehensively, and what role we want to play within it. It also helps us refocus on the interfaces and spaces between things and people. Because the majority of people are too busy pursuing the mirage to really recognize reality, this is where the opportunities are.

What is typically presented as a good opportunity in business, is often actually an opportunity to be part of somebody else’s business plan. Most of these so-called opportunities are so easy to duplicate, that they lead right to the red ocean of competition for slight edge advantages and dwindling profit margins. If customers are unable to distinguish between brands or quality, they will naturally gravitate to the lowest cost option.

True opportunities are never obvious, because they exist in the spaces between. They represent the world of possibilities and new combinations, and come to life when an entrepreneur or enterprise recognizes and fully engages their potential. This is why so much innovation happens at the leading edge of technology, through interdisciplinary collaboration at the edges, and through networking and mastermind groups.

An ancient principle

The Principle of Comprehensiveness is the second of eight principles in the Framework of Wisdom for the Mandala Chart. Two concepts which help define it have roots in Buddhism, particularly the branch of Esoteric Buddhism which introduced the Mandala to Japan.

(), meaning empty as the sky, which in fact is full of stars, galaxies, and infinite possibilities. In Japanese painting, architecture, traditional and martial arts, space is a powerful entity. It is also an essential idea in Buddhism, often mistranslated as emptiness, but more accurately representing the infinite potential of that which is without form. The realization of this potential depends on the second concept, which is how you engage with this potential.

(en), meaning edge or relationship, which can also mean the opportunity which is abundant in the intersections where people and ideas meet. It may also be thought of as the present moment and space, which is where the past transforms into the future. Think of how often things have developed according to the people you met and the decisions you made at the time. Yet this is an ongoing process, not a final verdict.

The Mandala itself has roots in India, Tibet, China, and Japan, where it was introduced in the 9th Century by a Buddhist Priest named 空海 (Kūkai). From the sixty-four frame (8×8) structure of the Diamond World Mandala, a National Treasure from 9th Century Japan, it is easy to see the roots of the Mandala Chart. The imagery used then represented the iconography of Esoteric Buddhism, as a graphical way of looking at the Buddhist universe with flexible focus.

Back to business

How then do you apply this to business? Once you understand the importance of flexible focus, once you learn how to look at things comprehensively, then you need to fix your eight compass points for business, and place them in the framework of the Mandala Chart.

How you determine those points depends a great deal on your type of business, your role in the business, and the field on which you play. To get you started, try downloading the PDF template Refocus Your Business, which gives you eight coordinates likely to apply to any business:

  1. Mission
  2. Current Projects
  3. Profit Plan
  4. Markets & Products
  5. Organization
  6. Human Resources
  7. Meetings & Communication
  8. Management Strategy.

Jot down some key words for each which apply to your business, and spend some time trying to see your business comprehensively, looking for new opportunities in the spaces between, for new ways to connect and integrate each of these elements.

The next time you find yourself getting tired, confused, or stressed by your job or business, look at your Mandala Chart. See if you can take your mind off of the flickering dots illusion, and refocus on the substantial opportunities that exist in the spaces between. Be sure to write your insights down. What you discover will calm your mind and benefit your business.

Flexible Focus #8: Memory is a slippery slope

by William Reed on July 1, 2010

The ability to recall and recount good ideas is a key skill for success in business. In our hyper-connected world, we are blessed with easy access to an abundance of good ideas, expert advice and solutions on nearly any subject. Because the information keeps coming, there is seldom time to really read and digest it. The simple solution is to bookmark it or file it for later. But how often do you actually return to it, much less review it?

Understanding something when you read it is no guarantee that you will remember it when you need it. In this way, the better part of the ideas we are exposed to simply slips through our fingers.

You have probably heard of the learning curve, a graphical representation of progress in learning a skill with practice over time. More significant and less understood is the forgetting curve, the phenomenon by which without periodic review in the short term, we forget more than half of what we learn within the first hour, lose about 70% of what we learned within 24 hours, and in a month’s time we retain only about 20% of what we learned a month before.

This process of rapid forgetting is known as the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, but with with it came an interesting discovery, that relearning through frequent review is not only easier, but greatly facilitates long-term retention.

Becoming a frequent flier

Numerous studies on learning techniques have demonstrated that the best strategy to increase retention is through frequent repetitions and revisions. The challenge for both full-time students and working professionals is that no one seems to have the time or discipline to schedule the frequent revisions that are recommended. If you are learning multiple subjects and have a busy schedule, how and when are you going to make time to frequently review or keep track of what you have learned?

If you have to return to review the original material in its full length, you will never be able to keep up. Taking copious notes can actually hinder your memory. Too much information and too little filtering reflects and reinforces the confused mind. Outlines can help, but the process of outlining is tedious, and can sap your enthusiasm for learning. Note-taking is the art of capturing the gist of ideas in words or visual form, and creating memory hooks that make it easier to review and recall.

The Mandala Chart offers an elegant alternative. You decide from the start to capture the essentials within the 8-frame format, which forces you to focus on the essentials. Having your notes on one page makes it much easier to review in a short time, and makes frequent revisions both feasible and fun. It makes it possible to become a frequent flier.

Tips on Taking Notes

Taking notes with the Mandala Chart can facilitate the process of flexible focus. There are several things that you can do to quickly master the process, and improve your retention and recall of important information.

  1. Create your framework before you start reading: Curiosity is the best frame of mind with which to begin reading. But rather than just following your nose, why not mark your trail by using a Mandala Chart that focuses on quality questions? A good place to start is with a Mandala Template on the basic 6W3H Quality Questions: Why, What, When, What, Where, Who, Why Me, How, How Much, and How To?
  2. Set your initial level of focus: If you don’t have specific questions you can start with chapter titles. Capture the key ideas of each chapter in bullet points, putting a sketch or image of the book cover in the central frame. If the book has more than 8 chapters, simply start a new Mandala for chapters 9 and up. However for review purposes, it is best if you can keep it on one page by combining chapters, or creating your own way of dividing and thinking about the content.
  3. Keep your notes concise and accessible: You don’t need to stick to the author’s framework. You can start with a blank Mandala Chart, and simply determine to find the best 8 topics or ideas in the book. This approach is like creating your own customized index, complete with annotations, sketches, and page number references. If you find more than eight great topics, simply start a new Mandala Chart and follow your curiosity.
  4. Keep a notebook specifically for revision: Your notes won’t do you any good if you can’t find them. If you store your notes in different locations and different formats, ranging from computer to file folders to backs of envelopes, it will be impossible to access them for any disciplined review. Store all of your notes for review in a single notebook specifically for that purpose, which you can carry with you. Do your review in a cafe, on a train, or while waiting for a friend. Take as much or as little time as you like for the review, and feel free to add notes as you get new insights.
  5. Number and track your revisions: An easy way to organize your review schedule is to store your Mandala Charts in a notebook with punched holes and tabs. Create 6 tabs in your notebook labeled as: next hour, next day, next week, next month, next six months, and long-term archive. Review your chart in the next hour shortly after you create it, then move it to the next tab. Simplify the process by scheduling one review session per day, one per week, one per month, and twice a year. Write the review dates on your calendar, and every time you review a Mandala Chart add a checkbox with the number of the revision and the date. This is the minimum review schedule to ensure long-term retention. Of course you can look at the charts beyond this as often as you like.
  6. Talk or write about what you have learned: One of the best ways to increase retention is to put what you have learned into your own words and share it with other people. Talk to your friends and family about it, or write about it in your blog. You won’t need to remind yourself to do this, because your schedule of frequent review will ensure that the topics are close at hand.

To remind yourself of the importance of active participation in the learning process, have a look at the Cone of Learning, and see how much you can draw it from memory two weeks later! Put this task on your calendar and test yourself. It will be a lesson you will never forget.

Flexible Focus #7: Inside the lines

by William Reed on June 24, 2010

The common catchphrase for creativity is thinking outside the box. This metaphor originated from the nine dots puzzle, in which you must connect nine dots in three rows, using just four connected straight lines. As long as you stay inside the box, you cannot solve the puzzle. Only by going outside of the square can you actually connect the dots. This puzzle is often used by creativity and management consultants to encourage people to look at problems from a fresh perspective.

Although this metaphor has captured the popular imagination, the real challenge is to engage in applied creative thinking that solves real problems. Tennis, for example, is a game that is played entirely within the box. It would certainly be easier at first to play tennis by taking down the net and ignoring the lines on the court. But players would not progress and audiences would find nothing worth watching. The presence of rules and limits is a prerequisite for progress in any discipline. Of the ideas and approaches that appear to come from outside of the box, the most exciting and productive creative work is often produced and performed inside the box.

It is on the court inside the lines, where action occurs. The word court has multiple meanings. A court can be a field of play in tennis or basketball, an interior garden court, a court of royalty, a court of law, or even courting as a process of wooing to gain attention and affection. A court implies focused action or judgement inside the lines.

The Mandala Chart is a court of play for your thoughts. You start with an 8-Frame Mandala Chart. To expand your thinking you do not go outside of the box, but rather dive deeper into the box by expanding each of the 8 frames into a 64-Frame Mandala Chart. You can change your focus by zooming in or out, as you flexibly reframe your thoughts.

As a practical matter, anything past the first level of 64-frames probably belongs in a library or database. You can also divide 8 by 8 to create a single frame, and this can be part of another set of 8 or 64 at a higher level. But as a practical matter, too much abstraction and you lose the plot. A great number of practical issues can be solved by simply reframing by 8 to the level above or below.

The Magic of Memory

George A. Miller, a cognitive scientist at Princeton University in 1956 published a famous study in which he argued that the largest number of objects a person can hold in working memory was the magical number 7, plus or minus 2, a phenomenon now known as Miller’s Law. The 8-Frame Mandala Chart is well within Miller’s Law, and its companion simply multiplies 8 x 8 to create a 64-Frame Mandala Chart.

Memory experts seem to defy this rule through such feats as memorizing the random digits of pi (the ration of a circle’s circumference to its diameter) beyond the textbook definition of 3.141… out to an astonishing number of non-repeating decimals in the tens of thousands, as recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. However, all mnemonic devices and memory systems work by converting abstract data by association into more familiar images that can be chunked and compacted into strings and stories that are easier to recall.

Musicians do the same thing when they learn to sightread a musical score. In effect, they juggle the same magic number of mental objects, but manage to connect more of them together by chunking and mental association. This is a good example of flexible focus, and  how performance improves with practice.

Both mental depression and memory loss are associated with a loss of the ability to make flexible mental connections, leading to a feeling of disorientation, feeling cut off from everyone and everything. The hippocampus is the seahorse of the brain most closely connected with this process, and neuroscientists have discovered that it has the capacity to regenerate as well as to atrophy. It makes sense to give your brain’s seahorse lots of exercise in flexible focus.

The Unfettered Mind

The process of flexible focus was described by Takuan Soho (1573-1645), a Japanese Zen priest and a genius of Renaissance proportions, in a work entitled The Unfettered Mind. This remarkable piece was written to Yagyu Munenori, head of the Yagyu Shinkageryu School of Swordsmanship, and is now a well-known classic on Zen in Swordsmanship. Takuan cautions that the stopping of the mind in an abiding place is what leads to ignorance, and can be fatal to a swordsman. Takuan advises that the unfettered mind has the ability to see all of the leaves of a tree, without being fixed on a single one, to catch the essence of movement without being caught in the details.

Olympic athletes work with attention control training, a field pioneered by Robert Nideffer, who found that tennis players, divers, gymnasts, golfers, and other athletes shift their attention flexibly from broad to narrow, and from internal to external focus, depending on the demands of the moment. In this case, enhanced performance depends on a flexible attention style.

So we return to the tennis ball, which of course must be served and returned over the net and inside the lines. That is where skill is developed, and where practical problems are solved. Whatever your game, use the Mandala Chart to develop flexible focus and enhance your performance when the ball is in your court

Week In Review – Jun 6 – Jun 12, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on June 13, 2010

NBA, NHL and your company’s Key Performance Indicators

by Brian Superczynski, Jun 7, 2010

Competitive sports industry lives and breaths KPIs. Everything is measured and compared with the other teams and actionable items created. This helps them to improve their game. Most companies measure KPIs, but find it difficult to do it at a more granular level within the company. Ask your management chain to identify metrics which translate to their group’s success. more…

Leadership and Mythology #5: Psychology and Entrepreneurs

by Gary Monti, Jun 8, 2010

Transitioning from a job to being an entrepreneur takes you through an interesting journey. Typically you start your career by following orders and delivering results. Then as you gain more confidence, you start expecting more and ultimately decide to go on your own. As you go through the various stages, the individual is transformed continuously. Is it challenging or threatening? It depend upon your psyche. more…

Flexible Focus #5: The Mandala Business Diary

by William Reed, Jun 10, 2010

The concept of time is something that many do not grasp. It is not a resource you control. Your quality of life and legacy depends on where and how you spend your time. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a compass to guide you where you want to go? Mandala Chart can help you do that. more…

Author’s Journey #25: Using video to market and sell your book

by Roger Parker, Jun 11, 2010

Video is easier than ever. In fact, the cost of getting started has dropped to zero – it’s free! In this post Roger explains how you can start building your online video presence today, even if you haven’t had any previous video experience.  more…

Flexible Focus #4: The eight frames of life: Health

by William Reed on June 3, 2010

Is your lifestyle enhancing your health, or are you unwittingly planting seeds of your own demise? Do you have a comprehensive way of engaging your mind and body for health, or do you get around to it when you can? The Mandala Chart can help you address this challenge, and get positive results in the process.

The key word for health is radiance. Radiant health shows brightness in your eyes, and an aura of light around your skin. It shines through in your laughter and in your step. Radiant health is attractive and contagious. Its energy is a sustaining force for life and vitality.

The quality of radiance is easy to sense, but difficult to measure. Sickness is easier to measure than health, but health is far more than the absence of sickness. Health is the vitality of mind and body, the evidence of life energy.

Health care is a burgeoning issue for people in all nations. It affects those who do not have access to clean water, adequate food, or basic health services; and it affects those who suffer from excessive intake of processed food and chemicals in the environment. It also affects healthy people who still must bear the costs of general health care. It affects our family, our friends, and the people we work with.

There is more information today about health and wellness than anyone could possibly master in a lifetime. The range of options for health and wellness is a virtual smorgasbord, a glutton’s choice. Often even specialists cannot agree on what is right. Perhaps the answer is to find what is right for you.

This is where the Mandala Chart can help you create your own customized vision of health. What works for one person may or may not work for you. With so many alternatives to choose from, it is no easy task starting with a blank sheet. The Mandala Chart simplifies the process by putting it first in an 8-frame perspective, just as we did with the 8 Fields of Life. The important thing is to see them all in the context of the whole, and not get lost in the details and dictates of individual pieces of the puzzle. Do not succumb to the syndrome of the specialist, who proclaims that although the operation was a success, the patient died.

Of course with the Mandala Chart you are free to create and choose your own categories. However, it is often easier to start with a template and then customize it through your experience.

Here I suggest 8 categories you can use for Health: Food, Movement, Breathing, Sleep, Skinship, Resilience, Humor, and Love. Download a Mandala on Health template featuring each of these categories, so that you can begin to create your own customized approach to a healthy lifestyle. I selected these categories because they are broad enough to contain both traditional and alternative approaches to health. They have all been demonstrated to have an impact on our health and well-being, and each of them can be connected to the keyword radiance.

Remember that no one pattern fits all. The results you get depend on the actions you take. Health is ultimately a combination of your genetic predisposition, the cumulative effects of your lifestyle and discipline, and your mental attitude. All of these combine to make the difference, so it makes sense to take a comprehensive approach.

Without recommending any particular health method or system, here are some of the factors to consider when you incorporate these elements in your lifestyle.

  • Food: The quality and quantity of what you eat, food combinations, preparation, diet, cuisine, as well as your enjoyment and beliefs about food.
  • Movement: How you use and treat your body, the quality and frequency of your movement, how you practice, enjoy, and improve, as well as the mind-body connection.
  • Breathing: The quality and depth of your breathing, how you use your breath in movement and speaking, as well as the connection between breathing and awareness.
  • Sleep: Your sleep patterns and comfort, regularity, depth, and quality of your sleep, short naps, dreams, as well as relaxation and recovery.
  • Skinship: Connection to your environment and to other people, hygiene, sensory experience, sexuality, as well as your aura and radiant energy.
  • Resilience: Your ability to survive experiences unscathed, to make a comeback physically and mentally, as well as your spirit of continuous engagement.
  • Humor: Laughter as a sign of a relaxed attitude, an open heart and a positive spirit, as well as the ability to enjoy life and make others feel good.
  • Love: Taking good care of yourself and the ones you love, the spirit of giving and protection, as well as the power of healing.

The frames of the Mandala are can be used in several ways. In printed form it is a framework for note taking or brainstorming. In the eMandala Chart you can attach web links or notes for further reference. Even the blank frames in the template serve as a mirror for reflecting on your own goals and issues related to health, and can also trigger topics for conversation or further study.

The important thing is to use the Mandala as a zoom lens for flexible focus, rather than a container for checklists and information. For this reason it is useful to start with a key word or image, such as radiance, which illuminates each of the 8 frames under a common theme, and integrates them with a single synergistic image. Also make use of the Principle of Interdependence, by bringing positive ideas, influences, and people into your life.

The same process can be applied to each of the other fields of life, gradually giving you greater mental clarity and leverage for action, through the power of flexible focus.

Flexible Focus #3: The Principle of Interdependence

by William Reed on May 27, 2010

Want a shortcut to improve your life? Change the way you see and engage with your world.

Things are not always as they seem. What you thought was a snake in the grass turns out to be a rope. A person you dislike says something good about you, and you suddenly see them in a better light. A flexible mind is free of fixed perceptions.

The sand under your feet can be material for a sand castle, or for a silicon chip. A cup becomes a cup if you use it to drink with. To another person it might be a pencil holder, or even a weapon. We experience things less by what they are, than by how we see them.

Abraham Lincoln said that, most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. When you are dealt a wild card, you decide what it will be. Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet that, there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

There are 3 ways to engage with the world, each reflecting a different level of maturity. The same process applies to the development of individuals, organizations and nations.

Dependence is where you take your instructions from others, and depend on others for your material needs. Outside influences largely determine how you think, feel, and decide. It is the state in which we are born, and in which some remain.

Independence is where you feed and fend for yourself, and strive to break free from the controlling influence of others. It is the creed of self-reliance, the striving to be captain of your own life. It is also a state of limited freedom, a gilded cage.

Interdependence is where you realize and cultivate the power of connection, and strive for synergy through the power of relationships. Knowing that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, you thrive by working for the good of others.

The progression from dependence to interdependence comes with growth and maturity. It is also possible to stagnate or regress, causing things to get worse. The cure for this is continuous improvement, for which the Mandala Chart gives you a map and a method.

Six steps to continuous improvement

  1. Give to others without expecting reward in return: While many people believe in give and take, this results in relationships tied to temporary transactions. A different perspective is giving without strings attached, knowing that givers gain. This results in long-lasting and rewarding relationships. There are many ways to extend a helping hand, if not through money or tangible resources, then through your time, expertise, and many small acts of kindness. Lighting the candle for others does not diminish your own flame.
  2. Maintain standards for the common good: Seek to act in a way that does not harm or inconvenience others. You can practice this in daily life simply by following rules that have been set for the common good. See that your lifestyle is one of health and sustainability (LOHAS). Behave in a way that is considerate of others. Some of these standards are set by law, others are dictated by common sense. You can also set higher standards for yourself that go beyond the minimum.
  3. Acknowledge and accept your current condition: Nobody is blessed with the best in all areas of their life. You may be financially secure, but not in good health. You may be happy at home, but miserable at work. Misery loves company, so you will find no lack of people wanting to pull you down to their level. However bad your current condition, complaining is likely to make it worse. You have to truly face and understand your condition before you can plan ways to improve it.
  4. Strive for continuous improvement: The power of continuous improvement is similar to the power of compound interest, which Einstein called the most powerful force in the universe. Don’t underestimate the results that you can achieve over time, nor the power of neglect over time. There is nothing in the world that cannot be improved, as long as you have the mindset to make things better. Though it may take time for outer results to appear, the best part is that you yourself will improve in the process.
  5. Be calm and act without confusion or haste: A Japanese proverb says that the hurried beggar stays empty handed. You might say that the beggar mentality is self-reinforcing. One thing people who rise above their circumstances have in common is a calm and steady commitment to improve.
  6. Polish yourself through practice: There are three kinds of people in life: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. You can live your life as a spectator or as a player. The best way to improve as a player is to practice. Continuous improvement is a verb.

In Eastern thought the word karma refers to the actions which actively shape our past, present, and future experience. Like the Celtic Knot, our world is closely woven and interconnected. It is through action that we engage more deeply in that connection. The rules of engagement are that if you engage in a positive manner, you get positive results in return.

Download a Mandala Chart showing the 8 fundamental areas of life. Ask yourself in your life, if they are happily interwoven, or a tangled mess? In future articles we will look at the 8 frames of life, and how to gain comprehensive life/work balance.

Week In Review – May 16 – May22, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on May 23, 2010

How to avail of opportunities that you cannot see?

by Himanshu Jhamb, May 17, 2010

Himanshu had a thought provoking moment when a long time friend wanted to invest in one of his ventures. It brought home for him the question of how you can be an opportunity to others. The answer lies in providing what others are looking for, i.e., be of value to them. On the flip side, you need to do the same to recognize value in others and build relationships. The two work together to increase your capacity. more…

Leadership and Mythology #2: The mystical and co-opetition

by Gary Monti, May 18, 2010

Can you compete and co-operate with somebody at the same time? If you are having difficulty with this concept, think about Apple, Microsoft, Google, Intel, Yahoo, etc. Do they only compete, or sometimes co-operate too? To be an effective leader, you have to balance competition with co-operation. more…

Performance Procrastination

by Guy Ralfe, May 19, 2010

Guy, donning his new business owner hat, has to take charge and take action. He had to deal with an employee performance issue and concludes that bearing short term pain is good for the long term gain. Of course, dealing with employees is an art and science – there are way too many considerations in play. But ultimately, it all boils down to the question: Is the employee pulling his or her weight and, are you getting your value for the money you pay them.  more…

Flexible Focus #2: Are goals traps or opportunities?

by William Reed, May 20, 2010

Goals are overrated. Yes, you read that right. In the western world, there are several traditional ways people think of goals and work towards achieving them. Following them, you either miss the big picture or miss the details or simply follow a beaten path. Flexible focus, epitomized by the Mandala Chart, is the product of eastern spiritual thinking. It is a philosophy that enables you to be free of your goals. You are not goal free, but you approach them in a detached manner that removes your bondage to your goals. more…

Author’s Journey #22: Use one sheets to sell books and build your profits

by Roger Parker, May 21, 2010

One sheets are single page, 8 ½ by 11-inch, marketing documents used by authors to promote their books and build their profits by attracting speaking invitations and promoting their coaching and consulting services. In this post, Roger tells you all you need to know to create one sheets.  more…

Have you ever invested years of your life pursuing a goal that turned out to be a trap? You work very hard to get a degree, only to find on graduation that you are overqualified, or unemployable. You sacrifice in order to achieve career success, only to find that what you really sacrificed was your health. You invest money to start a new business, only to go deeper in debt.

Chances are that you know people for whom the pursuit of a goal was not all that it promised.

There are so many quotes by wise and accomplished people that speak in favor of having goals, that it seems sacrilegious to say anything against the idea. Yet through experience we find that goals are not always golden at the end of the rainbow.

Goal-Free Living is a highly acclaimed bestseller by Stephen Shapiro, an international business consultant with an impressive list of clients and testimonials. Shapiro says that excessive focus on achievement leaves us ever hopeful for a future that never comes, and  he demonstrates through the lives of real people that you can have an extraordinary life without traditional goals, schedules, and plans. Featured in Newsweek, The New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, and on the cover of O-The Oprah Magazine, he has clearly tapped into a mother lode of sentiment regarding the limitations of a goal-oriented life.

Goal-oriented living may be a by-product of Western culture’s thinking about progress. It has brought us much good, and much damage at the same time. Single minded-pursuit of goals has upset the balance of life, interrelationships, and our environment.

There are three common patterns in goal-oriented thinking which are self-defeating in the end-result.

Distracted Pursuit

Chasing after whatever appears on your screen, whatever looks best at the time. Like a kid in a candy store, you grab whatever is in reach, and try to fill your pockets. But in the end you have nothing to show, and no real sense of satisfaction. Succumbing to suggestions that lead you anywhere and nowhere, you don’t stay with anything long enough to create lasting value. You end up empty-handed as a result of losing the big picture.

The mark for distracted pursuit is the memo pad.

Single-Minded Focus

Going for the goal no matter what or who gets in your way. Like a bull bent on destruction, by sheer force of determination you actually reach your goal, only to realize that other people have abandoned you, as you have abandoned them. You end up alone, as a result of single-minded pursuit, without considering the consequences.

The mark for single-minded focus is the checklist.

Stepladder Thinking

Pursuing the traditional path of education, leading to a career, followed by retirement. Like a cabin dweller chopping wood for the long winter, you patiently pursue the tasks set out before you, putting off immediate gratification for the sake of a secure future, only to find that your best laid plans don’t turn out as expected. You walk through life with blinders, as a result missing out on the broader view.

The mark for stepladder thinking is the calendar.

There is another approach which enables you to follow your instincts, get things done, and get results over time, without falling into the traps of common goal-oriented thinking.

Flexible Focus

Being able to see the big picture, focus on the details, and catch all of the connections, with a free and flexible mind that can achieve goals without being goal-oriented. In Asian philosophy this is known as working without being attached to results. It is a fundamental mindset that has spiritual roots, but delivers material results. It is wise, because it recognizes that things are not as fixed as they appear, and that flexible focus frees your mind to discover, to create, and to innovate. The tool of choice for flexible focus is the mandala chart.

Caught in the traps of the first three goal-oriented patterns of thinking, you may be aware of the limitations, but unsure of how to avoid them. You can make efforts to achieve life-work balance, to spend more time with your family, to go to the gym a few times a week, or to eat a more balanced diet. But unless you fundamentally change your thinking about goals, you will simply repeat the same patterns and fall into the same traps, even as you pursue the goal of life-work balance.

The mandala chart can help you achieve flexible focus. It works like a 3 x 3 viewfinder, with 9 frames. Putting yourself in the center, automatically gives you 8 surrounding windows, a field for flexible focus.

On the mandala chart as in life, you are surrounded by issues and goals related to health, business, finances, home, and other important concerns, but none of them dominate because you are at the center. Moreover, the center is not fixed but flexible. The center is wherever you are, and the field is whatever surrounds you. You are not so much goal-free, as free of your goals.

Download a visual reminder of the four approaches to goals. Where are you in relation to your goals? To keep your goals in balance, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I taking consistent focused action to move closer what is important to me?
  • Do I regularly consider the impact of my actions on others?
  • Are my plans flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances?
  • Can I see the big picture, the small detail, and the connections all at once?
  • Which of my current goals are potential traps, and which are opportunities?

Imagine if your view of the world was restricted to what you can see in front of your face. This was the case for much of human history. It is hard to fathom to what extent technology has changed our view of the world, giving us zoom access to the outer reaches of space, the microscopic world, cameras transcending time and space, and the web connecting our world.

What if there was a tool that acted as a zoom lens for your life? What if you could step away from the fray to see the big picture, zero in for analysis or action, without losing track of how everything is connected? The Mandala Chart is just such a tool, acting as a viewfinder with flexible focus. In all periods of history, the people with flexible focus have been able to dance circles around the rest.

The biggest room in the world…

My personal belief is that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. This is compatible with the philosophy of Active Garage to be always experimenting and implementing to improve. Increased access to ideas hidden in foreign languages and cultures offer opportunities for a new magnitude of improvement.

Until now, the vast majority of knowledge about the Mandala Chart and its development has been hidden from view behind the wall of the Japanese language. The purpose of this column will be to cross over that wall, and make this knowledge available for the first time in English. I have lived for much of the last 4 decades in Japan, working in my own business as an entrepreneur, in a career as an author, speaker, martial artist, and calligrapher, experiencing Japan from the inside.

We live in a fascinating reality, in which history repeats itself, and at the same time the future is unpredictable. Generations learn the same lessons under entirely different circumstances. We live in a world in which actions speak louder than words, and yet the pen is mightier than the sword. Proverbial wisdom comes in opposite pairs.

One reason for this is that the view changes depending on where you stand. Where we get into trouble is when we assume that our fixed view is absolutely right, and all other views are wrong. If wonder is the beginning of wisdom, then flexible focus is how you sustain it.

A tool for all times

The word Mandala comes from Sanskrit meaning essence of the universe. It is Hindu and Buddhist in origin, and for thousands of years has been used in Eastern religions as a means to enhance spiritual teaching and meditation. It was introduced to Japan with Esoteric Buddhism in the 8th Century by Kūkai, who studied the Mandala teaching in China, and it similarly spread to all of the cultures of East Asia.

Thanks to the work of Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875~1961), the mandala has come to be known as symmetrical charts or geometric patterns that represents both the human subconscious and a microcosm of the universe from our perspective. Jung found mandala patterns to be fairly universal, ranging from the rose windows of the Gothic Cathedrals in Northern France, to the Navajo sand paintings of the American Southwest.

Its origins in religion, applications in psychology, and appearance as cultural archetypes are widely known. But there is one less-known evolution of the mandala in Japan, the Mandala Chart, which over the last 30 years has developed into a powerful tool for life planning, idea generation, project management, and continuous improvement.

The Mandala Chart was developed by Matsumura Yasuo, founder of Clover Management Research and of the Mandala Chart Association, who describes it as the practical framework of wisdom, without the external aspects of religion. It has evolved into a marvelous tool for flexible focus, with a popular annual Mandala Business Diary, a series of books in Japanese on its applications for life planning, eMandala Chart software, and a Mandala Chart Association to spread knowledge of its personal and professional uses.

Mastering the matrix

The Mandala Chart works like a multi-layered matrix. The word matrix means the field from which something originates or develops, and derives from the Latin word for mother. It is also connected to the word master. The matrix is the key to mastery, because it allows us to flexibly frame and reframe our world. It has been used throughout history in many forms, from the artist’s grid viewfinder for making accurate drawings; to the Golden Ratio and Rule of Thirds in photography; to navigational grids and mapping.

The frames in the Mandala Chart matrix can contain text, images, or links, each of which forms a window on the world, empowering you with greater vision and mastery of your own space and time. The fun begins as you start working with the tools and templates, and the applications are abundant.

It is no surprise that the Mandala Chart developed in Japan, a culture which has mastered the process of kaizen, or continuous improvement, almost as a way of life. The Mandala Chart is a lens through which you can see the big picture, the small detail, and the connections all at once. In future articles I will show how this works, and ways you can use it to make continuous improvements in your personal and professional life.

The Mandala Chart is a tool for applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. This series will run weekly, and in future installments we’ll explore:

  • The Art of Flexible Focushow to gain clarity and flexibility of mind
  • The Framework of Wisdomhow to practice the principles of wisdom in daily life
  • The 8 Frames of Lifehow to gain comprehensive life/work balance
  • Mandala Toolshow to give structure to your ideas and schedule your dreams
  • Japanologycool themes on ways of wisdom from Japanese culture
  • Thinking Inside the Boxconnecting your consciousness to the roots of creativity
  • The Temple of Templatescool templates to get you started and facilitate the process
  • Art of Abundancehow to get in flow and leverage your value

For a visual preview of what is to come, download the PDF Mastering the Mandala Chart.