Welcome to the College Prep Confidential Podcast
Nov. 11, 2019

CPC Episode #28 - Fortune Favors the Bold: Solving Unsolvable Problems

Society loves to tell us what to think. If you listen, you limit yourself. Instead, seek greatness by discovering: What Alexander the Great teaches you about solving the unsolvable The One Trait the Best People In Each Industry Share Why Being...

Society loves to tell us what to think. If you listen, you limit yourself. Instead, seek greatness by discovering:

  • What Alexander the Great teaches you about solving the unsolvable
  • The One Trait the Best People In Each Industry Share
  • Why Being Unreasonable is a Good Thing
  • The 3 Step Formula to Being Unreasonable
  • 3 Traits of the Best Problem Solvers

Society loves to put restrictions and limitations on people and thinking. But the best performers… the legends of the world, don’t let society dictate their life story. They bend society to their will. And you can learn valuable lessons from how they think. Which is why this week, I’m pleased to bring you Episode 28, entitled, Fortune Favors The Bold - Solving Unsolvable Problems

One day, according to ancient Greek legend, a poor peasant called Gordius (who happened to be the father of the future King Midas) arrived with his wife in a public square of Phrygia in an ox cart. As chance would have it, so the legend continues, an oracle had previously informed the populace that their future king would come into town riding in a wagon.

Seeing Gordius, therefore, the people made him king. In gratitude, Gordius dedicated his ox cart to Zeus, tying it up with a highly intricate knot - - the Gordian knot. Nobody knows how he did it, but Plutarch in his Life of Alexander tells us that it was tied:

“with cords made of the rind of the cornel-tree … the ends of which were secretly twisted round and folded up within it.”

Another oracle foretold that the person who untied the knot would rule all of Asia.

The problem of untying the Gordian knot resisted all attempted solutions until the year 333 B.C., when Alexander the Great arrived. Alexander saw the rope and felt an instant desire to unravel it. After a few attempts at unraveling it, he took a different approach.

“Alexander, exclaimed ‘What difference does it make how I loosen it? He’d drew his sword and slashed through the tangle at a single stroke -  revealing the ends carefully tucked away inside.” Surely, the challenge was to solve the puzzle solely by manipulating the knot, not by cutting it.

This became the stuff of legend, giving rise to the Alexandrian solution. Ever since then, when a person has settled a difficulty by bold or violent means instead of patiently solving it, the custom has been to say that he has "cut the Gordian knot," in memory of Alexander's feat. Alexander went on to conquer Asia, though the prophecy itself might have been later propaganda created on his behalf. 

Sometimes, it's better to just cut the rope. And inside that metaphor lies the key to your college journey. You'll have a lot of people giving you advice. Friends, family, colleagues, strangers, on what to do when applying to college, what to do when taking tests, etc.

(don't let society dictate your rules to you. Bend reality to YOUR wILL!) Society may have said Alexander cheated by slicing the knot. Ah, but when the knot was sliced, we saw the Gordian Knot has no beginning and no end. So, you make your own path. The Gordian Knot solution means a problem which is either Solvable only by bold action, or eliminating the problem.

When you release yourself from society's artificial requirements on you, you become free to explore other paths, other hobbies, and other solutions to problems. Alexander bent reality to his will when he removed the constraint about "untying the knot" with his hands. Technically, the sword "untied" the rope. And it revealed the ends tucked inside.

Had Alexander listened to reason, he'd be on an eternal chase of fools. Instead, he went his own way and solved the problem. Alexander embraced the secret of successful people... they're unreasonable. When you're unreasonable, you remove unnecessary constraints on yourself. It remins me of the quote...

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” — George Bernard Shaw

This goes back to what I said. Bend the world to your will. And it all starts with being unreasonable. How do you do this? With a 3-step process...

3 Step Formula to Being Unreasonable:

  1. Listen to your gut. If you have an idea which always comes back, nags at you, and never goes away, then follow it
  2. Stop finding ways an idea won't work. Instead, find ways it will work.
  3. When you listen to you gut and you find ways it will work, then you're ready to take action. Avoid inertia. Get moving on your idea.

Alexander used this system as follows:

  • Step 1 - He wanted to fulfill the prophecy and rule all of Asia
  • Step 2 - He stopped trying traditional, old solutions which didn't work
  • Step 3 - He drew his sword and took action

Henry Ford gave me another great example of being unreasonable. When asked why he invented Ford Cars, he said:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses

Here's another tip which will help you be unreasonable... Find a support system...

when you attempt something considered unreasonable, it's best to find somebody who has either done it, or understands what you want to do. You'll have enough naysayers and people telling you want you can't or shouldn't do. So it's nice to find somebody who will be on your side.

Gordian Knot Cultural References

Thanks to the enduring popularity of the Alexander fable, the phrase “Gordian knot” has entered the lexicon as shorthand for an seemingly unsolvable or impossible problem. One of its earliest appearances came in the Shakespeare play Henry V, where the titular character is praised for his ability to “unloose” the Gordian knots of politics. And it all owes thanks to Alexander being "unreasonable", and acting in their own terms.

The story of Alexander reveals a few traits of people who have a talent for solving the Gordian Knot problems.

  1. They are Contrarians

History is riddled with people who went against the grain, and took a contrarian or unorthodox approach to skills and life. If you look at people at top of any industry, you'll see they do things differently. Because, let's be honest, most people do and say the same things, so is it any surprise that they get the same results as everybody else?

  1. They are Bold

They act decisively and quickly. They don't hesitate. The longer you wait, the higher the probability increases for you to delay a decision. Delay often equals defeat for solving problems.

  1. They don't care what other people think.

All they care about is solving the problem. The result comes first. Applause and praise take a back seat.

If you're ever stuck on solving a Gordian Knot type problem, ask yourself this question...

What would I do if I had no restrictions, no regrets, and no limitations? What you do is craft your solution from there. You may start off with something completely crazy, but then you walk backwards from outlandish into the realm of possibility.

So when your faced with a Gordian Knot type problem, exams, financial aid, or college prep, then why not try the Gordian Knot solution? You'll thank yourself in the morning. And you just might put your name in the history books. I mean, look at Alexander. Would he still be called Alexander the Great, would he still have books written after him, would we still be talking about him had he not drew his sword an slashed through the Gordian Knot to untie it?

Think about it...

College prep seems like a Gordian knot at times. Exams, financial aid, campus tours, changing requirements, it's a lot of work. So I want to help. I've put together a list of resources for you. You can find them at cpcshow.com. That's cpcshow.com. Let this page be your sword to slice through the Gordian knot of college prep.

Thanks for listening, and I'll see you next week.