The n plus minus one principle: higher, wider, different...
There is always higher than high and lower than low, deeper than deep, wider than wide, more than more and less than less, stronger than strong and weaker than weak, older than old and newer than new...
There is always much worse than what befalls you now and better that that which seems enough and satisfying at one moment. ..
If this litany of common sense reasoning makes you sleepy, keep awake nonetheless and consider what this string of truism may mean for you in important moments.
Reflect on this and you will find it to be valid in your own experience. Apply the consequence and you will be able to do things other people cannot. Simply because they remain unaware to the vastness of "other options".
Our now and the here are always in an local context. But there are always other contexts, elsewhere or sometimes else. There is an always possible someone else's view, even on what is obvious here, for you. There is forever something else, you can count on it; and from another, changed perspective, things appear different, new things appear, with altered meaning and dissimilar horizons.
Armed with this open-minded view of the world you will gain degrees of freedom to appreciate, chose, act and help other people. (But to make them understand such bold thinking, you will have to use the "power to make things simple").
We do have access to those yet unknown points of view. provided we understand and develop the "everelse" attitude. Our human strength is to travel in imagination and in thought to conceive and foresee new landscapes we do not yet behold with our eyes.
The flow of mind is not only something that just happens to us: being told, informed, instructed, perceiving, being, doing, thinking and feeling as we have to; we are not mere force-fields of causalities mirrored in our skull more or less as they are. Mind is able to conceive new things not given.
We have the reflexive might of the person, of “I”; to be aware that we are and what we do and why, from what cause or with which purpose. This opens an ability to observe ourselves and our context with detachment, as if from above or to question the roots and causalities of that which seems obvious to us.
Consciousness and imagination are a loss of innocence and simplicity but this godly juice of the forbidden fruit allows us - as agents - to understand where we are, in a way that enables us to take distance and freedom from that place. Thus we gain some power to act and to create that which is not given. We can start something new.
I like to ive a name to the strategic state of readiness to consider all things differently, from the next higher, wider, or – on the contrary - deeper level: "The n±1 principle".
“Take a distance to think!” "See the broad picture!"
Everybody knows these words, few do it. The tiger needs to disentangle his claws from the pray to better pounce again, the eagle sees well from high above, not landed in the hen-house. An obstacle is presented? Do not bump into it. Rise above it or dig under it. Go around it or smart it out on some other plane. Prevent it or out-wait it. Re-think its meaning; change its name, the point of view, the perspective, the people involved.
Do you consider doing all this? Did you consider how to do it?
When stuck, try to become aware of the frame where you are now and think out from it. This is the mind of a strategist. Reason like this and you will always be one step ahead – in your mind. Armed with this tool, you cannot work miracles but you know that you will make a difference.
The n±1 principle is a favourite turn of mind of the sage, the adviser and the leader; their competitive advantage.
Often, people may think they are erecting a hill when they are in fact digging a pit. You are able to help them cope with things impossible for their present mind.
"Impossible" is relative to a context, to something or somebody, somewhere and at a given time. It may be possible elsewhere or for somebody else. As my adoptive Father, Eric proved to me with simple but compelling examples, "most often there is someone else who can" and "elsewhere, with different means it can be done".
The infinite Universe does not experience impossibility. Things are or not, happen or not. For something to be impossible in the Universe there must be someone for whom it is impossible, some being trying something active. Therefore, consider somebody else.
Be prudent though, do not promise miracles just consider constantly for whom and where “it cannot be done”. Why it is out of reach? What makes it impossible? Why is it called "impossible"? (sometimes it is simply their name their definition, which makes things impossible" Find out who can, where it can be done or when. How it can be done. What is needed to do it? Ask such questions if appropriate or think of them silently. Go for that change.
Keep in mind that some things are given but some we make. Try the "make"!
As n+1 rises above the local given by a wider view, n-1 looks deeper, questions the obvious ground on which we stand. It digs under it.
N-1 challenges the ready made certainties so useful for common sense. We need to challenge common sense as much as we need to use it. Why?
We carry with us many of the impossibilities we meet. They stem from assumptions, from what we think we know with unquestionable certainty. That helps us not to lose time when we reason on our feet. Much of this pre-judged certainty comes from language, the words used and the names, labels and classifications we inherited, granted by imitation, received wisdom or disciplined school learning. Many other such assumptions are sound intuition proven by our own experience. All this is good inheritance and firs-hand learning, witnessing worthy of trust; but in crises, when cornered by unfavourable impossibility, the n-1 attitude gives us license to put the obvious, the ground under our feet, to the question.
At times, what we experience as “necessity” and “impossibility” are so because of a name, a label, a meaning, a belief unquestioned; some of our freedom is prevented by words, lost by certainties; but we can change meaning and names to regain it. I did solve some dramatic situations by reconsidering the causes, the questions asked and by re-defining and re-naming the problem, convincingly.
You will say “Marvellous, but how to do all this?”
The first and main thing you can do for yourself is to understand this principle - as a metaphor - and to arm your mind with it; which means to turn the words, the formula n±1 into a vivid image in your mind, one you own. You can do this without learning philosophy for years and studying the deep meaning of Goedel's Theorem.
Choose a metaphor you will remember and use. For me, it is "When the water rises, so does the boat" or the "Come out dragon and fight!" They are both of the unforgettable kind; if you understood them thy will be with you for life.
Next, collect and learn some examples of this turn of mind, literary or other. I will give you some literary examples lower, but you should find some more (and let me know if I am still around.)
When you feel familiar with the turn of mind, start trying it out; in your imagination, in the way you reason, in (careful) advice you give, in what you do – most important, think n±1 whenever you meet something difficult or stuck. Keep seeking ways to make this metaphor simple enough to be understood by other people.
In the beginning you just cannot see yourself from above the pit but after a while, within limits of hard fact, you grow accustomed to do it spontaneously.
Moreover, form a habit to detect what is considered obvious and examine it; as I explain elsewhere the obvious is very difficult to observe.
Ask why exactly it is obvious?
Which are the factors, the listed necessary causes that make the unwanted necessary and the desired impossible?
Who said so, from where comes this truth, what proved it? Maybe we met a limit of our understanding and we take it for a limit of material reality.
What would happen if one or other “necessary” factor that grounds the impossibility would be changed or eliminated by touch of a magic wand? Ah, then it would become possible?!
Perhaps we can do that exceptional thing or somebody else can change that?
After you formed the habit to think n±1, exercise carefully its applications:
n±1 is sometimes a simple action, like leaving, going elsewhere where things are possible, or just being absent when “fatality” hits... it may consist in bringing in, involving someone who can. Often it is finding a different level of power, authority, means and resources; such common-sense is, amazingly, a quantum leap for the context of those who do not hold the wider frame in their mind.
Helping other people to see their own blindness requires indeed another skill.
It is useless to tell people that they are in a pit; it is useless to tell them that they are out of the picture, that they do not know when they believe they know it all. It is useless to urge them to understand differently, that which they perceive as obvious. The impossible is evident to them. Some event is needed to change the mind. Go softly.
A “simple” stratagem is to cause the person or the group to visit some place where the view is larger, the means much bigger, power is exerted, and people can. Serve some freedom to let feel the fresh taste. Emotionally, meeting people who have hope and vision when one has none, may help.
Sometimes I replace this visiting experience with my favourite style of giving advice, by saying “This reminds me of a story” or by presenting the experience offered by a similar case where people discovered a lager or a deeper view and also obtained the means to apply it to their need. When possible I invite people who can and who did it to tell their story.
I try to make distant ends meet to produce new understanding...
My strongest can-opener for the mind is to create paradox, real or local i.e. amplifying or reducing the given situation until absurdity is apparent and the "given" is suddenly deprived of its credibility, in a new light . This is complicated, so that I will explain the use of paradox another time.
All this takes time and it is luxury intervention, individually tailored, person to person. You must also consider that most people do not say thanks for the eye opening. They remember the shock and resent being less intelligent than you for an instant, or too indebted to you. Some bite you. Be good but it helps to carry a stick: or to leave soon for wider horizons.
I cannot put here in writing the living process of waking up minds and triggering discovery in a group of people. At most I can give some examples – sleeping wisdom about explaining n±1 in words and in significant, demonstrative action.
To explain the concept n±1 I used anecdotes, powerful enough to make one understand the leap of re-framing – the jump to a new orbit of understanding.
Here is a seemingly real-life anecdote about a man taking initiative that surprised a whole assembly:
In a country where I was a child, there used to be a university examination of terrible reputation for young people dreaming to study drama and become actors. The faculty had to select half a dozen from more than five thousand candidates, a real massacre.
The most feared make-or-break test was the improvisation exercise, where practically everyone was rejected.
One trembling candidate had his turn in such a session, in front of a large and intimidating some thirty-person jury made of the most prestigious actors and directors of the nation and presided by the distinguished Shakespearean patriarch of that time.
Everyone sitting in the jury was tired, unfriendly and bored. Without even looking, the president handed this candidate a pen and told him:
"Make me laugh."
Suddenly, in despair, the sweating young man found something. He leaned forward, and tapped his pen resolutely on the forehead of the venerable President. Then he said with a deep, warm, rejoiced voice: "Sounds empty!"
I was told that the whole room froze and you can figure it too.
Then, everyone burst into irresistible, mad laughter, even the president.
The impossible, paradoxical task to make laugh had been so obviously accomplished that there was only one possible decision. The candidate was accepted. He became later a star of the next generation of actors.
This anecdote is the live image of rising out of a hopeless hole in a moment of danger and opportunity; a situation that evades the given, shakes people out of their way, on a short trip into new meaning.
An act of speech can alter fact and change the course of action.
Here is a second “joke” of the kind that can endanger a dynasty, related in Roman times by Macrobius  and retold later about Austro-Hungarian royalty:
A Roman Emperor visiting the provinces, observed in the crowd a youngster resembling quite amazingly to himself. Amused, he asked leaning on his horse:
“Tell me youngster, did your mother ever serve at the courts in Rome?”
“No, replied the youth, but my father did.”
The chronicle of Alexander the Great provides two other traditional examples (or anecdotes) of breaking the mould, exemplary for their logical nerve:
For his conquest of Asia, Alexander needed an auspicious prophecy from Delphi, the spiritual authority of the day. Arriving to the temple at the wrong time he was told by the Pythia that Apollo was not available that day. At this, he dragged the seeress by her hair to the tripod shouting that for him there was always time. The frightened Pythia exclaimed, no doubt to appease him: "You are invincible my son!" To this Alexander said: "O, voice of Apollo, this is the prophecy I needed!" taking the words for the message of the god as it suited him. 
At Gordium, the same Alexander was confronted with the legendary Phrygian Knot, said to be undone only by the one who would conquer Asia. Countless contenders were known to have unsuccessfully tackled that entangled maze. Alexander quickly and brutally reinterpreted the task and simply chopped the knot. "...when it was thus smitten many ends were to be seen"  He was certainly not shy to reinterpret things.
 In the original the Macrobius dialogue goes: 'Dic mihi, adulexcens, fuit aliquando mater tua Romae? Negavit ille nec contentus adjecit: "Sed pater meus saepe." (Saturnaliorum conviviorum libri septem) Ref: John Wardroper, Jest upon jest: a selection from the jestbooks and collections of merry tales published from the reign of Richard III to George III, Taylor & Francis, 1970
 Plutarch: “And now, wishing to consult the god concerning the expedition against Asia, he went to Delphi; and since he chanced to come on one of the inauspicious days, when it is not lawful to deliver oracles, in the first place he sent a summons to the prophetess. And when she refused to perform her office and cited the law in her excuse, he went up himself and tried to drag her to the temple, whereupon, as if overcome by his ardour, she said: "Thou art invincible, my son!" On hearing this, Alexander said he desired no further prophecy, but had from her the oracle which he wanted.” (Plutarch, Alexander 14 The Parallel Lives by Plutarch published in Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1919 )
 Plutarch’s text: “After this, he overpowered such of the Pisidians as had offered him resistance, and subdued Phrygia; and after he had taken the city of Gordium, reputed to have been the home of the ancient Midas, he saw the much-talked of waggon bound fast to its yoke with the bark of the cornel-tree, and heard a story confidently told about it by the Barbarians, to the effect that whosoever loosed the fastening was destined to become king of the whole world. Well, then, most writers say that since the fastenings had their ends concealed, and were intertwined many times in crooked coils, Alexander was at a loss how to proceed, and finally loosened the knot by cutting it through with his sword, and that when it was thus smitten many ends were to be seen. But Aristobulus says that he undid it very easily, by simply taking out the so called "hestor," or pin, of the waggon-pole, by which the yoke-fastening was held together, and then drawing away the yoke. .” ( Plutarch, Alexander 18 The Parallel Lives by Plutarch published in Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1919 )