A Genius in the Making

I’ve always been an out of the box thinker. If there’s a way to solve the problem that no one else has thought of, I’ll be the one who comes up with it.

When I was about five, my 13 year old cousin had a Rubik’s Cube. He switched it up and left me alone (in part, I suspect, so I wouldn’t be in his stuff). After about 20 minutes, I went into the kitchen where my parents were sitting at the table with my aunt and uncle – with the puzzle complete. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t that hard.

My dad was proclaiming me a genius. A prodigy.

You did it all by yourself? He asked. Uhhh yeah…you didn’t see anyone else in there did you? It wasn’t hard. Of course not.

His baby genius.

He mixed it up and told me to do it again – so my aunt and uncle could witness the miracle that he had sired.

So I took it in my little hands, rolled it over a couple of times, switched up a few of the sides…and proceeded to remove the stickers and put them onto the color coded sides, keeping the spares on my little fingers until they were needed.

A genius. Clearly. OK, maybe not. But no one had explained the rules to me. And it seemed to me – that was the quickest way to get the job done.

That’s the way I’ve always thought. It’s the first question I ask myself when I have a problem to tackle. What do I have available to help me to get the job done quickly and efficiently?

A few years ago, I went on a business seminar for work. It was one of those “Teamwork” modules where at the end they get you to do those trust exercises and fall into your co-worker’s waiting arms. At the start of the day, they put us in a large room. It was a regular meeting room – the round meeting tables had chairs stacked on them and were pushed to the middle ends of the room so we could do our “exercise”.

We were put into two teams, both on one side of the long room, a few feet wide, that was marked by tape. In the middle of the room there was a “lava” pit. We were to get to the other side of the room (also marked by tape) using lengths of wood – that could only go in one direction (they couldn’t go back once they’d started going to the other part of the room). If anyone touched the floor, they were “burned” by lava, and that team lost. We had to get the whole team to the other side of the room using about five pieces of wood (varying in length from about the size of my foot, to about three feet in length) and without getting burned. As a bonus, there were large toddler size Lego blocks set about the “lava” – the more blocks we got, the more points we got.

My team started strategizing right away. There wasn’t enough wood to make a “bridge”, even if we hopscotched our way across the room. We couldn’t use them as skis and pass them back and forth – as we had to get the whole team across and they couldn’t go backwards. There were about eight people on each team. Both teams were having the same discussion about the bridge and the skis. And they were stuck on the idea. Back and forth, back and forth. No solution.

I stopped our group’s discussion and called one of the moderators over for clarification. I explained that I understood the rules – but what about the tables and chairs. The moderator didn’t understand at first. I said – there are tables and chairs in the middle of the room – are we required to ignore them? Are they lava too? There was a quick conference between the moderators. No. The answer was no – we didn’t have to ignore them. All resources were at our disposal.

I was the only one who stopped focusing on the planks of wood and looked around the room at what else was available. After the seminar – the moderators told me that was the first time in 10 years running the exercise that someone had asked that question.

Our team used some of the planks of wood to reach the chairs. We used the chairs to create a bridge of sorts. Then we used the extra planks of wood to knock the Lego blocks to the other side of the room. And once the other team saw what we were doing, they copied us. And it got done.

Sure…there’s always the conventional way of solving problems. You could fiddle with the cube until you master it’s secrets. But you need to look at ALL your resources. Sometimes there is an easier way of doing things. You need to take a step back and figure out what else you have at your disposal. The tools might not look like tools until you step back. But they’re there if you look. That’s how you think “out of the box”, if you’re a genius that is.

Image Credit (Edited): num_skyman / freedigitalphotos.net

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