The Practice & Art of Thinking

Visual Problem Solving

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This blog has up to now explored many aspects of visual thinking directly and indirectly.

The aim was to have diversity on the topic that would explore some aspects of thinking, rationality and simply how to think better so that we can contribute positively with our interventions.

The topics have not been exhaustive, the aim was to simply map the range and diversity of how we think and make sense of the world.

I am not one for quotes, but the ones below make the point better than if I were to write an essay.

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”

“And he has Brain.”pooh

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”

There was a long silence.

“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


“Don’t you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn’t developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see.”

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

The point I am trying to make is that we sometimes get too clever and forget the basics and loose trust in out own capabilities. This leads us to desperately seek the magic formula out there, because we have lost the confidence in our basic abilities of thinking and making sense of the problems we are faced with.


The basic principles of thinking and asking critical questions – dumb questions – like the ones that children sometimes ask – is important and we should become confident to explore basic principles.

Visual thinking, although it might come across as a fad, I deeply believe is a very basic skill that we have lost confidence in. It is not a technique nor a method, but one of those skills that we as humans are excellent at and should reignite our innate abilities and use it with confidence.

In future posts I will be exploring more frequently issues related directly to problem solving and specifically how to use visuality to make good informed decisions.

There are tons of methods that promise to help us solve problems – I do not criticise any, I only suggest that there is a danger with any approach that promises that if you follow x and y steps this will be the panacea to all your needs.

The only caution I make is that there is the danger that one loses the basic skills to think and hands over control to a method that in many cases has been removed from ‘the context’, thereby loosing the essence of its original intention because it is being used incorrectly or applied incorrectly resulting in and creating more problems than the one’s we truly solve.

We tend to clutch at quick fixes because we deeply fear to make mistakes. This attitude was drilled into us at school. We learned that mistakes are bad, and we were punished for making them in some way. Yet, if you look at the way humans learn, we learn by making mistakes. We learn to walk by falling down. If we had never fallen, we would never have walk. The same with thinking, we need the courage to think again.

As Toni Morrison said, if “You wanna fly, you got to give up the s..t that weighs you down.


Author: Rui D S Martins

Creative Director and founder of MindVision Technologies

One thought on “Visual Problem Solving

  1. Can you explain your own visualization thinking process?

    I myself have made a distinction between productive visualizations and non-productive, or counter productive visualizations. Some advice I found useful from Hinduism and the Gita specifically: it is erroneous to dwell on the fruit of action. Desirable end results can almost always be imagined in a better and better way, so the idea of perfection is just an illusion of context and is not reality. Those such visualizations tend to extend into more extreme perspectives, and consequently initiate and sustain more extreme emotional polarities within the exercise. The result comes to terms with the body and mind thoroughly exhausted.

    Because self-initiated emotional extremes are like drugs, they leave the body depleted and craving for more soon after, which leads to attachment(Buddhism). There seems to be no end in which you can imagine something better, but there is a greater purpose in which you can imagine something useful. Creative problem solving for me usually lacks language intervention. Words may arise to define or clarify some form of logic in the process, but the visualization is not dependent on those lines of conceptualized theory.

    I’ve noticed that when my creative visualizations become too emotional, I get stuck on ideas, and I get stuck on the language I’ve used to define those ideas. Creativity essentially stops due to this self-imposed trap. When I know that I have become emotionally compromised beyond my ability to continue acting accurately and skillfully with my mind and body, I take an extended brake. I thoroughly try to forget any creative ideas I have come up with. I do something else for a time, or for many days, eventually revisiting the open-ended process I left on a cliffhanger.

    I usually must start over completely if I’ve done this, but fresher ideas come about along with the previous in a similar fashion. Consequently, by practicing breath awareness, body awareness and breath control with a mindfulness detachement of thoughts, emotions, actions… The errant emotions can be brought back under control of the conscious reasoning facility. This happens dues to a phenomenon that can be easily described as “what wires together fires together. ” Such emotions usually ignite due to instances in which I encounter a visual stimuli of which I hold an other-than conscious preference for it being a certain way.

    If that preference is of any extreme liking, I get excited positively: over stimulating the nervous system and consequently making it more difficult to continue. Concentration and single-pointed awareness becomes severely hampered due to this extreme liking, similar to eating sweets. A liking for the liking can exaggerate it even further. On the other end, if that preference is of any extreme disliking, I get excited negatively in some degree of anger. Anger actually brakes the stream of understanding that flows with mindfulness during rational visualizations, and “why get angry when a little frustration will do?” The third and final extreme is a sense of boredom, disinterest, or resistance, an aversion to putting forth the effort required to initiate and sustain single-pointedness of attention with intention. Visualizing emotionally is exhausting and it happens naturally with “fruit focusing”…also known as daydreaming, fantasizing…imagining without conscious clarity of purpose.

    Visualizing rationally is calming; the body and mind are not exhausted by the ups and downs of emotional impressions, so you can last for hours, or even days thinking like this. Rational imagery does feel natural, but I’ve also noticed it is like medicine. Unless I have some kind of emotional residue left behind concerning the subject, I usually recognize a feeling of discomfort towards starting, not comfort. Yet, as soon as I step up to the plate and just begin wherever I feel comfortable doing so, all doubts and fears of the illogical logic faculty subside; I feel peace; I feel rejuvenated.

    I feel that rational visualizations are more action focused visualizations, instead of being outcome focused in emotional end result visualizations. I like to invent things, or figure out how to make things work. Visualizing playfully, just starting somewhere, persisting, trying anything new, following every related tangent, being open to any direction with direction guiding me… I’ve also noticed that rationally creative visualizations are driven by an interest, usually outside of the body-mind’s conceptualization of selfish ego desires. Emotional visualizations, creative as the may become, seem to be driven more so by the emotion they generate to gratify oneself internally; usually such a person lacks the self-awareness or wisdom logic for recognizing how emotional extremes come about, or just how destructive or counter productive such thinking invariable concludes. One last distinction.

    I mentioned emotional extremes are counter productive, not emotion in and of itself. Within the context of skillful perception and usefulness of rational visualizations, the emotional extremes are absent, allowing the body-mind system to become more sensitive. As sensitivity increases, it takes much much less emotional stimulus to entertain the drive of the ego self-identity in process. This equates into feeling feelings more clearly, more crisply, and without exhausting the body or mind in the process. Peace seems to be the predominant quality, not excitement, though it does come and go.


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