Your problem needs fresh perspective
How kids make fools of adults + the virtue of a video game
My daughter is a bit of a luddite. By choice actually. It was never forced upon her to be an anti-technology radical by 5th grade. No one nudged her to curse screens…video games…advertisements or to scorn the constant use of smart phones in by people both young and old. And yet, that’s how she is.
I happen to love video games, so I was delighted when my wife found this game called Superliminal (the trailer is cool!) for our new Xbox. It’s a mind-mending puzzle game that pushes the player to see beyond what is in front of them, to unlock doors and hidden pathways. Superliminal caught my daughter’s eye as I played, and she eventually wanted to play. Cause why not? It’s just puzzles.
There was this one level where I was trying to open a door, and spent atleast 45 minutes trying to do wild things to force that door open. Then my kid, uninitiated in gaming and being the very definition of naive and inexperienced…said, “Have you tried grabbing the moon out of the sky and seeing if there’s a door there?”
I literally laughed out loud. It was such a ridiculous idea. THE DOOR WE NEEDED WAS RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF US!! But then I looked up in the game toward the moon in the sky, just hanging out there. Suddenly, I remembered what game I was playing. Superliminal. The idea of the game is that there are no real rules.
So I moved my cursor up to the moon….and holy sh%$….It was was moveable. I clicked, and the moon became a tool. I pulled it from the sky and long story short, used it to escape the room we were trapped inside.
I want to tell you one more related story and then I’ll get to the point.
Fast forward a week from the Superliminal incident. The kid and I are on a Scout day trip to camp. This is a big event where different Scout troops are competing in a relay race of physical and skill based activities. My kid’s troop gets their turn at an obstacle course where they have to work together to lift a heavy wooden sled over a series of wooden hurdles, and then go underneath another set of hurdles. All whilst doing this, some of the kids are given disabilities. Some have to be functionally blind, or not use their arms, or be one-legged…so on and so forth.
The timer begins. And the kids begin their epic struggle to do this truly onerous task. It’s no joke. In the distance I stand with the adults and we watch as the Scouts attempt over and over again to lift the sled over the hurdle, failing each time.
Then the Scout leader whispers to me, “You know, so far no Scouts have realized that the rules don’t prohibit them from knocking the hurdles over.”
“Seriously?” I responded.
“Yep! They can do it the straight forward way, and it’s great for team work. But they were only given an objective, not rules on how to do get it done. They could win by just knocking the barriers over.”
Not to brag, but a while later I overheard my child propose this very idea to the group. The kids were far enough away that I know they hadn’t overheard the adults quietly discussing it.
She was shot down immediately by the group. The idea was dismissed without any consideration by her peers. Isn’t that funny?
You’ve been here before. We all have. You’ve been ignored or pushed aside because of a perceived limitation in “expertise,” age or qualification. The “experts” then step forward in your place to much fanfare and enthusiasm, bringing with them what can only be described as predictable approaches to the problem. Maybe it’s your boss, your spouse, or it could be a parent. Think about how I dismissed the moon-moving idea because “I’ve been playing video games for 20+ years.”
Expertise is an illusion. It’s a mantle that exists to approach prescribed sorts of problems and then ascribe hierarchy to who gets to participate in the solving of problems as they arise. Am I suggesting it’s bad to pursue expertise or a masters degree in biology, political science or engineering? Of course not.
There’s a saying in zen Buddhism that goes, “Not knowing is most intimate.” When we don’t know something and sit in that state of not knowing, we feel connected to what’s around us. The people, the objects, the breath we breathe.
Shunryu Suzuki of the San Francisco Zen Center talks about the “beginners mind” as a state of being where possibility is endless. In the expert mind, possibilities are few. In this state of not knowing, curiosity and engagement with the world comes alive. Discovery is unlocked. You then become capable of holding the box in your own hands which you once sat trapped inside.
This approach to living is most easy for infants, toddlers and young children. You know how they soak up language, motor skills and concepts like little sponges. You’ve seen it with your own eyes at some point. Take language for example. The most opportune time to learn a second language is in elementary school. Why? Because when you screw up a word or botch saying “I love eggs” you feel no shame. Why would a 5 year old care about getting something wrong?
They live in a state of not knowing, and happily turn to adults with question after question. “Why why why why why why why why” they say. It’s their favorite word. It gives them an almost superhuman power to flourish intellectually at a rapid rate.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”― Shunryu Suzuki, Beginner's Mind
When you’ve entered proper adulthood, it becomes harder for a myriad of reasons including both being busy with other things and then….
It’s embarrassing to not be able to speak with another human being. You go from being a fully functional adult with a robust vocabulary and grasp of grammar to a toddler-like state when you try to learn Spanish or maybe even English at age 30. It sucks!
In 2021 I was hired to coach a Chinese man on his English. He’d lived in the U.S. since the 80’s, but his accent was still incredibly thick. As a result, certain words came out of his mouth wrong. This Chinese-American man also happened to be a powerful person. Chief advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State. He’s brilliant, high performing, cunning no doubt….and also completely vulnerable when it comes to speaking a second language in English. He described in detail his feelings of shame when doing media interviews and watching the clips the next day.
There is how we see ourselves in our own minds eye, and then there’s seeing ourselves objectively in third person. What prevents us from wanting to do this is our ego. Ego is the enemy. Ego must be overcome. Ego tells us to avoid situations of discomfort or vulnerability because it makes us feel small.
What I’m telling you is to let go of your love of the comfort of knowing. In most cases, it is an illusion crafted deep inside our consciousness to mimic the feeling of safety. Only this illusion can be highly dangerous when the time comes to solve novel problems.
At the end of the game Superliminal, there’s a truly beautiful monologue by the games creator about problem solving and the reason for the game. At one point the voice says, “The problem is not that the problems we face cannot be solved…the problem is that we become so afraid of failure that we refuse to see our problem from a new perspective.”
Watch that monologue here. It’s powerful. And have a great week.
This Thursday I will be in Phoenix, Arizona to give a talk about this very subject. Much of what you’ve read here can be found in my book, How The Force Can Fix The World: Lessons on Life, Liberty and Happiness from a Galaxy Far, Far Away…chapter one. Only in my book, the grand metaphor is Star Wars Episode I and how the people of Naboo drove the Trade Federation off their planet. You should buy my book if you haven’t already, or gift it to a friend.
If you live around Phoenix, please come join us! RSVP here and come have dinner at Casa Corazon Restaurant, 2637 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ.