I was talking previously about putting yourself in an Oasis of Calm where we are in a relaxed mood and are more creative but quite often I find that one session is not enough, at least not enough to gets us into the depth of a complex problem. How many of us find a solution to a complex problem when we are away from our desks? In the shower? With friends? What powers this sudden insight? For me, the answer is our subconscious mind. We rarely make use of the immense power of our subconscious, rarely fuel it or give it time to solve our problems, it has an amazing power for problem solving and pattern matching and we need to use play to help it along the way.
As a software developer, I spend a lot of my time dealing with complicated issues and complex problem spaces but I have noticed that there is often a pattern to how I have solved problems and talking with other people in the industry I don't think that I am alone in this. When I am at work and there is a particular problem I am trying to solve it while in the Closed Mode, there is usually pressure on me to fix something and I'm probably stressed so the answers just don't come, which only makes me even more stressed and less capable of finding a solution. However, throwing my hands up in despair, I'll storm off and go do something else completely unrelated, chatting to friends, swimming or doing almost anything else and suddenly I have the answer, my subconscious mind has been freed to comprehend the nature of the problem and has provided the answer, or at the very least a clue.
Playing around a subject, delving into the possibilities, laughing out it, exploring it all helps us to understand a subject and may open up even more areas for our subconscious to explore. We may not find a solution in one play session, instead that play has planted seeds in our subconscious, fed and watered them, we just have to let them grow. Suddenly our subconscious mind forms a link that our conscious mind could never have done, a link between two concepts that at a shallow level are unconnected but the subconscious mind finds the connection.
We can then go into another play session and play around with these new connections, that may solve our problem or once again we play and let our subconscious attack the problem until the next play session. If we don't put pressure on our play to come up with the solution in one session we are more likely, over time, to find the solution because the instant we apply that pressure to ourselves, the more likely we are to be stressed and hence Closed.
One key to having this confidence is to know when you need to make a decision by, to know that you can delay critical decisions until they need to be made to give yourself maximum play time and maximum subconscious thinking time. This is not being indecisive, there are times you will need to make instant decisions, but know when those times are and know when you can delay the decision. In my own field of expertise there is a phrase I keep coming across from the agile development community, delay decisions until the last responsible moment (which should not be confused with the last possible moment). For as long as is responsibly possible delay your decisions and stay Open to new possibilities.
I have heard Dan North and Liz Keogh talk several times about Real Options. When you are looking to solve a problem then you should explore what options are available to you, you can explore them through play, let your subconscious hint to new options the more we know about the options that are available the more we know about when we need to make decisions. Options have a value, maybe not a quantifiable one (as in trading in options) but the value is in able to delay decision making, but Options also have an expiry, the point beyond which the option becomes unviable, i.e. the last responsible moment. Knowing when each option expires gives us points at which we need to make a decision, should we take this option? Should we give up on this option and delay the decision until close to the next option expiry?
So, what can we learn from all of this? We have to give ourselves time to come up with solutions to the problems that we face, we can allocate ourselves the time and space we need to play, to explore the options and to feed our subconscious mind. Finally, when we have our options, when we understand them, when we understand their expiry and we can use play to evaluate the different options then we can delay the decisions until the responsible moment.