Unleashing the Imagination

Earlier this week, I saw an article in the April 2006 issue of Wired magazine in which Will Wright, the creator of The Sims, makes the case that electronic games are a powerful means for unleashing the human imagination. While he acknowledges some of the negatives widely attributed to electronic games (violence, addictive nature, etc.), he makes a pretty compelling case that gaming provides actual benefits to society through the expansion of "creativity, community, self-esteem, and problem-solving."

In the interest of full disclosure…while Will Wright is legendary in the computer gaming world, my gaming "pedigree" pretty much begins and ends twenty some odd years ago with my pac man spinning uselessly in a corner with the "bad guy" ghosts looming — game over in less than a minute. All the while, my darling husband shaking his head in disbelief. It might have been the lowest score in the history of the game.

But in this article, here’s a guy speaking my language. I’m so intrigued I may even give one of the new generation of games a try. The "gamers mindset" as described  by Wright, just may be the hope of the future of an innovation economy. Here’s why…

The method of play for these games is experiential, learning in
context, trial and error, and rapid, repeated cycling through the
scientific method (hypothesis — "if I do…," experiment — "give it a
try,"  and analysis — "what worked/didn’t work & why").

Through this "gamers mindset" learning process, Wright suggests that
the players learn to "treat the world as a place for creation, not
consumption." Wow. This pairs natural curiosity with active
experimentation and higher order thinking. Problem-solving is organic
and rules evolve in response to the emerging world — innovation
becomes the standard process. 

Wright explains, "Players navigate the game’s possibility space (as
defined by the given conditions and the end goal) by their choices and
actions; every player’s path is unique."  Active involvement is key– creating and interacting with worlds, characters, and story lines. Imagine if we consciously approached our careers or businesses — our lives — in this way…creating new possibilities over and over again through the simple process of wondering…posing a hypothesis and then testing it out — knowing ourselves to be active participants…creators, not merely observers and reactors.

The future, Wright suggests, includes more and more opportunities for creation built in as the game, the individual players, and vibrant player communities collaborate in the creation of new experiences and new possibilities.  In this way the games become a  "visible, external amplification of the human imagination." Imagine what can happen when you bring the gamer’s mindset and strategies, supported by years of gaming experience, to the problems, challenges, and possibililties of the world we live in…oh boy…benefits to society, indeed!

Sudoku Teachings, Part 2

Today, I’m working on a puzzle I am finding particularly difficult. Truth to tell…I started it days ago and still haven’t finished it! I am completely stuck. I tried everything I knew to do and still no solution. My usual strategies had always been successful…until now. I keep moving the partially completed puzzle around as if being in a different physical space will cause the solution to magically appear. (Heck, sometimes that works for me — get out of the office for a little breather and shazam! a solution just pops up).

I was even ready to “cheat” by finding the printed solution and taking a quick peek for “inspiration.”  I had my rationalization all ready — “It wasn’t really cheating it was a new learning strategy:  start with the answer and work my way
back.” I suppose it is no coincidence that I have found probably the only puzzle collection that does not include the answers neatly tucked “in the back” or “just a click away.”  Then it struck me…suduko was ready to teach me a new lesson. Was I ready to learn?

As I wondered, lessons kept unfolding. And it is not at all surprising that these lessons apply to all kinds of creative challenges. Here’s what I’m learning today from my sudoku Teacher:

  1. Notice when you are stuck and are no longer “experimenting with
    different possibilities
    ” but just “spinning your wheels.”
    How many
    times have I run into this as I build my business and bring it into the
    world on the net — confronting all sorts of technical puzzles and
    creative challenges
  2. Don’t stay stuck too long. Well, duh! This is an invitation to fail
    faster at the small stuff so you can move forward with the big. You
    might even set a time limit. I will stare at this thing and grumble for
    10 more minutes, then I will declare: “I have failed! I didn’t have all
    of the answers and strategies I would ever need.” Ok, done. Now let’s
    move on.
  3. Look for support from experts or at least others with more experience.
    What a radical concept — you don’t have to do it alone! Others have
    gone before and even if they didn’t do exactly what you are attempting,
    their experience is close enough to be of help. And even more
    outrageous — these folks are willing…no, eager…to share what they
    have learned. All you have to do is ask. And asking is often as simple
    as typing a few words into Google.
  4. Note to self: if you don’t understand what the expert is saying, find
    a new expert.
    Find an expert who speaks in a style you understand. When
    I did my Google search on sudoku solutions, I found lots of resources.
    Some were written in a way that I felt like I needed a translater.
    Others, I got immediately because of the style, tone, story, images the
    expert used. Look for the resonance.
  5. Beware of the romance of the perfect strategy. When you’ve found
    resources that you love, you can get waylaid by wanting to learn
    everything you can — following one path after another until you find
    yourself hours later, still no progress on your puzzle, but with a
    flush of excitement, and a list a mile long of new things you have just got to try or read about. Don’t laugh. I know you’ve done it, too. There is a balance here. A little diverging is healthy and enriching. Too much and it begins to smack just a bit of addiction to the next new idea, which sometimes goes by another name:
  6. And…the mother of all surprises…sometimes, logic is not enough. Sometimes more expertise and more strategies will not move you forward. Sometimes you just have to…(gulp)…guess! I was shocked! And then I was shocked by how shocked I was! Sometimes the only thing you can do is take your best SWAG (scientific wild assed guess) and see what happens. My head seemed to know this — especially when considering other people’s challenges — but every other fiber of my being seemed caught up in a whole different belief that, if you had
    asked me, I would have said I didn’t have. And then the walls came
    tumbling down. Whew!

So, whether the puzzle is of the sudoku variety or some other creative
challenge, see if these lessons provide a new way to move gracefully through a stuck place. And, let me know how it goes!

The Sudoku Puzzle Approach to Creative Business Planning

I admit it. I’ve become addicted to sudoku puzzles. And, they are showing up in my life in weird ways. Just the other day I was talking with a delightful group of entrepreneurial women on the verge of launching new businesses. We were commiserating about the challenges of writing a business plan. It seems so left-brained and not so much fun. Then, it occurs to me…writing a business plan, planning a product launch, creating a marketing strategy — really any  "big hairy project" — is kind of like a sudoku puzzle. The Teacher is at hand…consider if you will the lessons of the sudoku puzzle: 

  1. Start with the "rules" of what you are creating — they provide a container to hold your creation.
  2. Do the easy things first — they will usually open doors to complete the tasks that seem harder at the start.
  3. Work in pencil and have an eraser handy — use tools that allow you to easily take risks and make changes.
  4. Follow the emerging order of what you are creating. Step-by-step is not always a straight line.
  5. A fresh perspective provides new answers. What is unclear when viewed in one way, becomes obvious when viewed in another.
  6. Sometimes it goes painstakingly slow, sometimes it ripples quickly — that’s just how it is. Take advantage of your momentum by going fast when things are rippling; let yourself slow down when the pace needs to be more painstaking. The ebb and flow is natural.
  7. Struggling does not create progress. Stop banging your head against the answer that just won’t come. Move on to a different part of the puzzle.
  8. Feeling stuck is an invitation to explore a different area– if you can’t find the solution now, it could be because there is other information that needs to happen first before this box can be solved.
  9. Savor the feeling accomplishment when you solve a piece of the puzzle — and use that delicious feeling to inspire you forward.

The Power of A Good Story

I love a good story. Don’t you? Stories work on us, they take us places, and they let us plumb the depths of our wisdom for new ways to look at familiar challenges. Metaphors challenge, confound, entertain, and change us.

At any moment, we can choose to invoke the power of story to create a new result. As a coach, I frequently use stories and metaphor to help people move from being stuck, into practical action; from defining a situation as a problem, to seeing how it is a steppingstone. And stories and metaphor are everywhere. You can’t take a half a step in any direction without bumping into a whole bunch of them — in a book, a poem, a quote, a conversation, inspirational writings, a song, graffiti, a personal belief, a folk tale, a prayer, an email, a wish, a joke, a movie, a commercial, on a bumper sticker…heck, everything has a story just waiting to inspire you.

Stories tap into deep truths, archetypes, core values, and patterns that are bigger than us. Our bodies and souls recognize a deep truth when we hear it. It has a resonance that we can feel, and it reminds us who we are, and are meant to be, and it invites us to continue growing. In a similar way, stories (those we tell ourselves, and those we choose to listen to) create the frameworks we use to make sense of our experience. Imagine what would happen if you changed a fundamental story “Life is Hard” to a new story “I am resourceful and can respond well to whatever comes my way.”

Stories give us many voices. They enable us to clothe ourselves in fresh perspectives and learn from each. What conclusions might Sherlock Holmes deduce from the information in front of you? How about running your strategic plan through the Holodeck on the Starship Enterprise, so you can watch how it plays out? What would you do differently if you put on the hat and point of view of a farmer? How would a child respond? What about a tribal elder?

Stories invite us to play. They are endlessly malleable – they can have as many endings, new beginnings, plot twists as we can imagine. There really are no rules, so anything is possible. They fire up our creative right brain. You can start one without knowing where it will go and just follow it along to see. There is something about stepping into a story (do you remember “make pretend?”) that frees us to create with a little less judgment. To skip past what we “know” to be right and logical to find something fresh and innovative. And maybe loosen, even a little bit, the tightness with which we grip our conclusions.

And in a very real way, playing with stories trains your brain to see in a new way, supporting you to actually create something new. You can rehearse a change you want to introduce in your life by telling the story of your life as it will be 10 years from now. You can watch the story unfold in your mind as you practice a skill you never knew you had. You begin to notice what you haven’t noticed before. A good story creates a picture that becomes included in our mental concept of reality. Repeating a story can actually program our thinking. It is a kind of mental rehearsal – a power tool used by masterful athletes and performers the world over. This can lead to magic — Abracadabra! By the way, did you know that one story about this most magic of words (although it may be a myth and has been challenged by scholars), suggests that the word is derived from an incantation from the Jewish mystical teachings of the Kabbalah, Abarah K’Dabarah or "I create as I speak."

So, open yourself up to possibility and gather ’round. It’s story time!