Brandon Love MagicBrandon Love Magic
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by Brandon Love

Problem solving is hard work. Sometimes it’s fun and rewarding work, and sometimes it’s frustrating and deflating. This is why my relationship with magic is very much a love/hate thing sometimes.

Magic is, at its core, the practice of problem-solving.

A few years ago I had the chance to travel to Las Vegas to learn magic with some of my heroes. It was a dream come true: Imagine, ten dudes from all over the place sitting around a fancy table in a fancy hotel, shuffling cards and sharing ideas.

One conversation from that experience really stands out in my mind. It was after our coach Paul had just shared a new piece of magic he’d created. The piece itself was impressive, and we sat stunned with silly grins on our faces. But what was perhaps more fascinating, was the story of the amount and intensity of work required to create this masterpiece.

Paul went on to share that he spent several months thinking about nothing else but this new piece, including several sleepless nights during that stretch. Several months (!) of leaning into the problem. He had a vision and was set on achieving it. Paul shared that his entire living room was filled with notes, and playing cards, and open magic texts everywhere. What is art if not the joys and pains of being held captive to the ideas in your mind?

What is art if not the joys and pains of being held captive to the ideas in your mind?

For some of us that kind of dedication might seem a little out of reach. Paul is a very accomplished magician and has been creating magic for a very long time. His dedication to the craft makes sense when you consider how far down the yellow brick road he is.

But I’d be willing to bet that we all have problems we could spend several months trying to solve. What problems would you love to solve if you knew there was a solution waiting for you?

We can learn a lot from magicians. The world’s top conjurers are master problem solvers. They invest hours upon hours to make the impossible a reality.

One of the greatest lessons I learned about problem solving came from a conversation I was having with another of my coaches a few years back.

To encourage magical thinking, he gave me this problem:

There’s a huge tennis tournament with 999 competitors. The tournament consists of one-on-one matches, where the winner advances, and the loser is eliminated.

In the first round, there will be 499 matches, with one player randomly assigned a bye (a free pass to the next round). The next round will have half as many matches plus one.

The challenge is to figure out how many matches will be played in the tournament.

 

Take a few minutes to think about it. See if you come up with a number. I’ll wait here.

Chances are you’re starting to stumble over the numbers in your mind. Perhaps if you already have an aversion to math, you’ve thrown your hands in the air in defeat. Perhaps you’re even getting frustrated with me now.

When he gave me the puzzle to solve I remember really squeezing my brain to arrive at the answer.

After watching me count my fingers, squint my eyes, and work up a sweat, he finally offered to help.

“Solving this problem is not about math, it’s about shifting your focus, changing your perspective a bit. You’re concentrating on counting the matches round by round, progressing towards a winner.

Let me ask you this: How many losers will there be?”

“998” I responded.

“So how many matches will have to be played?”

I smiled.

Perspective-taking is at the crux of problem solving.

Did you feel that shift too? Instead of focusing on counting the number of winners, we could count the number of losers and arrive at the solution rather simply. 998 matches will have to be played, since every match produces one loser.

Lots of problems seem to follow this pattern. We spend time working at what we believe to be the only solution, beating ourselves down and growing frustrated with our lack of results.

It’s only when we gain a fresh perspective, take a step back, and shift our focus that we open up different possibilities, and help us find more solutions.

Here are a few of my favourite ways to gain new perspective on a problem:

  1. Remember the golden assumption: We’re always missing something. It reminds me that there are more perspectives I haven’t yet considered, and helps me continue the search for solutions.
  2. Different Lenses – Write down as many different “lenses” through which to look at your problem. How would a firefighter approach the problem? How would a surgeon approach it? What about a butcher? A baker? Candlestick maker? Yes, it’s a bit silly, but silly is good when we’re being creative. If you don’t like silly, try asking yourself how other people you admire might approach the problem: Your partner, your boss, or Oprah. Intentionally shift lenses and see if that shifts the focus.
  3. Seek a coach. Being able to have an honest conversation about blindspots, strategy, and taking action is incredibly valuable during the problem solving process. Whether you ask for feedback from friends and family, or hire a professional, make sure to talk about your problems and process with someone you trust. I have found mastermind sessions are particularly valuable when I’m working on a challenge.

Learning to shift our focus will help us find more and better solutions, while also motivating our next steps as we create the lives we want to live. Perspective-taking is at the crux of problem solving.

The great news is that there are millions of perspectives around us all the time, we just have to be willing to look, listen, and lean in. There’s more here than meets the eye.

What problem do you need some fresh perspective on, and how can I help you find it?

brandonlovemagic
About brandonlovemagic
Brandon Love is a magician, speaker, and coach. He helps people un-stick their minds to become more creative and achieve the impossible. Combining his unique blend of awe-inspiring entertainment with experience-derived insights, Brandon creates an unforgettable experience on stage or up close. He is also the co-author of Brainsprouting: How to Become Fearlessly Creative & Have Better Ideas More Often.

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Problems & Perspectives