Posts Tagged ‘optical illusion’

Flexible Focus #57: Unlocking the Box of Perception

by William Reed on June 9, 2011

A recurring theme in the Mandala Chart is the use of frames for flexible focus. We have looked specifically at themes such as Finding Focus in the Frames, and Inside the Lines. One of the benefits of flexible focus is mental health and resilience.

We refer to a frame of reference, the belief system or perspective which frames our perception and values. Reframing is a core concept in psychology, both in the ability to reinterpret a problem as an opportunity, or the ability to listen to differing opinions with an open mind. It is one of the principles behind meditation and hypnosis, where silence and suggestion reframe the way we see and experience the world. Reframing is what moves our mind in art and in advertising.

Leonardo DaVinci frequently would draw the same object from at least 3 different perspectives. We should not be so quick to think that our current perspective is the only one. This folly is magnified when we try to impose our limited point of view on others, whether it is through education, propaganda, or persuasion.

Reframing is the shift in perception when our eyes play tricks on us, such as with optical illusions. It is the magic behind the magic eye and other stereograms, where 3D images are embedded inside a 2D image, sharply revealing themselves when you look at the picture with eyes slightly crossed or through special glasses.

All of this can be great fun. It is also used by some optometrists as a means of exercising lazy eyes, reducing eye strain. The importance and effectiveness of exercising your eyes is supported by the Bates Method and other approaches to improving vision. There are even yoga exercises for the eyes.

Making the Mental Leap

Scientists, artists, and inventors develop the ability to change perspective in visualizing solutions and solving problems. In business and training, creativity is encouraged through games that help the group achieve a new perspective. A great compendium of such games can be found in Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo.

What the Mandala Chart can add to this potent brew is the ability to be both creative and orderly in the frames. We have seen in the article on Assessing Your Situation with a Mandala SWOT Analysis how it can add new dimensions going beyond the 2×2 matrix.

Here is an additional way that you can use the Mandala Chart to multiply your mental powers.

Start with a 3×3 Mandala Chart, fill in the surrounding frames, and leave the central frame empty. This is used to capture insights you gain by cross-matching the ideas in the 8 surrounding frames. You could also write out your ideas on 8 notecards and arrange them in a box formation, leaving the central area free. Label your ideas A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, in the manner of the Mandala Chart, but instead of viewing them in a static arrangement, see what else you can discover when you combine them in creative ways.

You can look at rows, columns, or opposites on any axis. You can move cards to new positions and get a new perspective. Substitute new ideas for a potentially limitless range of perspectives, but always within the 3×3 framework. It is the blend of spontaneity and discipline which sparks your creativity. Create a new card for any hybrid idea that comes from mixing and matching elements in the square, but instead of putting the new idea in the middle, set it aside to leave the central frame open for additional offspring of your ideas.

Try to create at least 8 new ideas from this mental cross-pollination, and you will get a sense of the power of the process. Just as in nature, some matches are better than others. Not all combinations work, at least until you are able to make the mental leap and find a new perspective.

Remember that each idea looks different in the light of another idea. Extend this to the art of creative conversation and collaboration, and you truly have a magic key to unlock the box and discover the infinite idea treasures within.

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.