Sunday, February 24, 2013

Life Lessons learned from Sudoku

The Old Willow
 Like thousands or maybe millions others around the world, I am hooked on Sudoku.  There is a simple elegance to the game.  Everything I need to solve the puzzle is there in the numbers and squares.  No need to look in a dictionary or encyclopedia.  In fact, that will not help in the slightest.  There is no place to look for the answers except in the puzzle itself.

From Wikipedia
Several years ago, I could only complete the simplest of Sudoku puzzles.  In the local paper, the puzzles are easiest on  Mondays and get progressively harder as throughout the week.  Sundays' paper had a complex Sudoku with five interlocking puzzles.  I loved the challenge but never got very far.  Same with Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  

An online version of the puzzle had a "help" setting.  All the possible answers appeared in each square.  As I completed the puzzle, the number of options decreased until I knew I had the correct answers.  It seemed the best way to solve it.  Very methodical and logical.  Go from large square to large square trying to organize the numbers from 1 to 9 and taking note of which ones are possibilities.  This method worked for most of the easy to moderate level puzzles but I still never got very far with the more difficult problems.

I got frustrated and bored with Sudoku   I'd reached a plateau and couldn't get to the level of understanding.  It is like the video games the boys play.  I could not find the trick needed to unlock the next level.  The answers were there.  I just didn't know how to find them.  

So...I stopped.  I didn't touch a puzzle for several years.  This past Christmas I got a Sudoku calendar with a puzzle for every day.  I tried again with the same strategy and got the same results.  

One day I challenged myself to complete a puzzle without writing any of the "hints" in the boxes.  I did it!  I tried it with increasingly more difficult puzzles.  An interesting the happened.  I saw patterns in the numbers!

When I looked at the puzzle as a whole, I noticed patterns that I could not see when I focused on the smaller squares.  Classic "forest vs trees".   I stopped thinking of Sudoku as nine connected puzzles.  Instead I looked at it in its entirety. 

I had "unlocked" the next level of the game!

Now, when I start a puzzle I look for the way the numbers are arranged.  If there are several 3s, I focus on them and all other numbers fade.  Sounds whacked but I actually do make the numbers fade by ignoring them.  That is when I start to see patterns I missed using my old methodical approach.

Why were these patterns clear now?  All the "hints" I used obstructed my view.  There is such a thing as too much help.  I could not have seen the patterns when I started years ago.  But, eventually, I did.

How many answers are we missing because we focus on the details of a problem?  

Are schools focusing too much on the individual skills and deficiencies of students and failing to see the real issues and the real needs?

Perspective changes everything.  My new motto, 
Change your perspective.  Change the outcome.

What outcomes can you change by changing your perspective? Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store