Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Beware the Purple People Eaters: A personal look at leadership."
Before becoming an Army cavalry scout in the harsh climate of northern Alaska, as well as a husband and father, my son, Steffen, was an aspiring magician. He began developing his craft as a young child, and by high school had mastered many of the skills necessary to amaze and entertain his audiences. I was frequently his audience, as he would often "test" new tricks with me. He believed that if a magic trick somehow worked on me, it would work on others.
Frequently, and especially during the early years, I would spot the sleight of hand or figure out the basis for the trick. But by his late high school years, it became increasingly difficult. He had one trick that, to this day, still has me mystified –– and a bit angry, since I have yet to figure it out. My only explanation is that something supernatural is going on.
Steffen, or "The Great Steffano," as he would often refer to himself, would pull out a deck of cards, fan them out, and show me both sides of the cards in order to verify their authenticity. He had me pick a card, look at it, and place it somewhere back in the deck, which was then shuffled again. He then pulled a clear plastic sandwich baggie from his pocket that contained a single playing card –– the joker. I would verify that it was the joker, and that there were no other cards inside the baggie. Next, I’d put out my hand, and he would lay the baggie on it with the joker face down. He would then instruct me to place my other hand on top of it.
After a half minute or so of dramatic magic stuff (waving the deck over my hands, blowing on them, etc.), he asked me to tell him the initial card that I had drawn from the deck. After I confirmed the card, he would ask me to remove my top hand and look at the card inside the baggie––which had somehow "magically" changed from the joker to my card.
To say that I've had Steffen repeat this trick for me several times over the years would be an understatement. Each time, regardless of the card I draw, the result is the same. Despite how hard I focused and paid attention to everything happening around me, I came no closer to figuring out the "logical" basis for it.
Obviously, there was some kind of misdirection going on––what the eyes see, the ears hear, and the hands touch...the mind delivers. In other words, what I think is occurring may not always line up with what is actually occurring, which is the basis of perception.
View the images below. In the first, a perfect square is placed over a series of concentric circles. In the second, black squares are arranged in a four-by-four grid and spaced the same distance apart.
What do you notice? Do the sides of the first square appear to be curved inward? When you look at the second image, do you see “shadow-like” images where the four corners of each box come together?
Both of these images illustrate how what you "see" is not always reality. Our senses–in this case, our eyes–can play tricks on our minds. When trying to properly identify or define a problem before we apply sticky thinking–creativity–to find the solution, it's essential to try and look at it from as many perspectives as possible. The initial view may have been distorted and may not provide the complete picture.
Have you ever dropped something small on the floor and then had a difficult time finding it? When this happens and I start to get frustrated, I remember this "varying viewpoint" principle and immediately drop to the floor to look across it––a new perspective that usually yields better success.
As human beings it's easy for each of us to view something and come up with very different views as to its intent or meaning. We all perceive ourselves and the world around us in ways that reflect our individual values, experience, knowledge, and personalities. We each select, organize, and interpret the stimuli around us in different ways.
There are many ways to view a problem, and thus many solutions that come with each view. Sticky thinkers know this and have become accustomed to stepping back from a problem prior to solving it in order to see it from as many different perspectives as possible. More perspectives allow for more connections and a greater opportunity to get creative.
By the way, despite trying a variety of tactics to get him to show me the secret to that trick, ranging from cash rewards to threats of potential punishment, "The Great Steffano" held true to the creed that a magician never reveals his secrets.
Practice Challenge: Each time you have to generate an idea or solve a problem, try stepping back for a moment. Shift your viewpoint and get a totally different perspective. It may or may not change the resulting solution, but over time you will train your brain to look at every problem from a variety of perspectives.
©2014 Anthony D. Paustian
For more information about Dr. Anthony Paustian, provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com