Sheep Follow Blindly…

October 28, 2009

*Journal-BelieveBelieve nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. —Buddha

Buddha’s words seem more pertinent than ever today. Maybe time is the truest test of wisdom?

Back in high school, a friend of mine from a neighboring town was arrested for smoking pot. The following day I nervously stopped by his house, uncertain of what to expect. His mom, whom I knew well and respected greatly, answered the door. She was clearly (and understandably) shaken up by the event. At some point, my buddy, his mom and I ended up at the kitchen table talking about what happened… and more importantly, what my buddy’s future held.

I will never forget that discussion, mostly because of the way his mom reacted to the problem at hand. She seemed less concerned about him getting caught, or even smoking pot—than the fact it wasn’t his idea to smoke it. Unlike most parents who would have been screaming about the dangers of drugs, how marijuana was an illegal gateway drug, how this would hurt the family’s reputation, and so on… she mentioned none of these things. At first I thought I must be missing her point. But as the conversation continued, she made it perfectly clear—I wasn’t. Read more

Stay Focused on Solutions

October 23, 2009

How many times has a great solution stared you right in the face, yet somehow you missed it? It always seems amazing after the fact, doesn’t it? So how do we start seeing the endless solutions that surround us each and every day? Before answering that question, let’s understand how we miss them in the first place. In part, it’s due to a phenomenon psychologists call “perceptual blindness” or “inattentional blindness.”

Consider the following example: Professor Daniel Simons and his psychology students asked volunteers to watch a short video. In the video, team members (one team dressed in black shirts, the other in white shirts) passed a basketball back and forth. The volunteers were told to count the number of passes made by the team wearing white. At some point, a person in a gorilla suit appears during the video. When the video ended, researchers asked if anybody saw anything unusual. Only half of the volunteers reported seeing the gorilla. The other half reported to have seen nothing unusual.

Here’s a video based on the original study:

gorilla1How could people not notice the gorilla in the room? Mostly because they weren’t looking for it. They were focused on something else. Magicians have known about this phenomenon for years… so have politicians.

Here’s another example called the “Door Study

This helps explain how experts can be more susceptible to perceptual blindness than beginners, and why “outsiders” often find solutions that experienced “insiders” miss. Beginners and outsiders are usually more open to possibilities because they don’t make common assumptions. By extension, they’re often better at finding solutions the experts have stopped seeing.

Perceptual blindness sheds much light on why we miss obvious solutions… especially those we mislabel as problems. By focusing on one thing (a problem), we miss something else (a solution). So why not refocus on solutions? This is one of the topics in my upcoming book: “Pink Bat: Turning Problems Into Solutions.” It should be available for the holiday season… I’ll keep you posted.

Categories Don’t Define Reality—We Do

October 16, 2009

When European scientists first saw a stuffed duck-billed platypus in the late 1700s, they thought it was an elaborate hoax created by Chinese taxidermists and sold to some naive sailors. One very respected scientist even pulled on its bill to see how they managed to stitch it on so neatly. But when more of these critters showed up, scientists reconsidered their position, took a closer look, and accepted the platypus was, in fact, real.

Why didn’t they accept it at first? Simple. With a duck-like bill, an otter-like body, a tail like a beaver, and webbed feet, the platypus didn’t fit an established category. So it couldn’t possibly be real! While this may seem funny, the idea of rejecting ideas (new realities) that don’t fit neatly into accepted categories, still happens on a regular basis.

*MJ-RareAirI learned this firsthand while working with Michael Jordan on his book, Rare Air. It was my first retail book experience so I was naive to the process. After working hard and putting a presentation together, I flew to NYC to meet with several prominent publishers. (By the way, when Michael writes a letter on your behalf, asking someone (anyone) to meet with you… they will.) By the end of my first meeting, I learned that since Rare Air didn’t fit an existing category, it couldn’t be “real.”

Like the scientists and the platypus, every publisher who initially saw Rare Air rejected it. By reinforcing each other’s beliefs… they shook ours. When Michael asked whom we had selected to publish his book, we were speechless. Read more

Relax, Breathe… Create.

October 13, 2009

It seems when I least expect it, my best ideas appear. Can you relate? Often while on a walk, taking a shower or relaxing in some way… bang! A great idea seems to magically appear. On the flip side, when I’m really stressed out and in need of a breakthrough solution, rarely does anything truly creative surface. If you’re like me, that’s when you return to the old idea well and crank up a predictable solution. It might be an interesting solution, but rarely original. It’s typically a modification of one of those good ideas that “worked” once (or twice…) before.

According to Nuno Sousa at the University of Minho in Portugal, there’s a good reason for why this happens. Sousa found when lab rats are stressed out; their responses to familiar routines become very repetitive. For example, rather than trying new maze paths that lead to food, chronically stressed rats repeatedly ran down the same dead-end paths. Read more

Write It Down!

October 3, 2009

So Many Journals

According to what I’ve read and experienced, people who write down their goals have a greater chance of reaching them. I believe the same holds true for people who write down their creative thoughts and ideas. The chance of discovering creative solutions that work successfully increases significantly.

Creative ideas are fleeting gifts. The question isn’t whether you have them (everyone does), but whether you take these gifts seriously and record them. Since we never know where or when they’ll strike us (walking, sleeping, shaving…), it’s important to be prepared at all times.

A few months back, while taking a shower, I was struck by a childhood event that involved a broken plastic baseball bat. It came out of left field (no pun intended) and started connecting to a plethora of today’s so called “problems.” Read more


October 1, 2009

"I’ve found kids labeled “slow” or “gifted” often travel in the same direction but at different speeds. “Average” kids move in a predictable direction at a moderate speed… making them easier to teach."

I’ve found kids labeled 'slow' or 'gifted' often travel in the same direction but at different speeds. 'Average' kids move in a predictable direction at a moderate speed… this makes them easier to teach.

Which Label Best Describes You?

Hopefully your answer is, “None of the above.”

Seeing this “Slow Children” sign inspired me to create a couple more. We each attach our own meaning to words and labels—symbols. While symbols often stay the same, the meanings we attach to them are continually changing. When I was a kid, the word “gay” referred to being carefree or happy-go-lucky.

The swastika dates from the Neolithic period and  still appears today as a positive religious symbol in parts of India. In the western world it has become stigmatized and even taboo because of its usage by Nazi Germany.

Without physically changing, symbols carry different meanings based on what we attach to them.

Consider these five points…

  1. Symbols (words, labels, etc.) don’t define reality; we use them to try and express it.
  2. Symbols don’t provide meaning; observers do.
  3. All symbols continually change over time to serve a new purpose.
  4. While symbols can be helpful, they can also block us from seeing reality, solving problems, and creating new solutions.
  5. When it comes to kids (people), symbols (labels) don’t work so well.

Creating new solutions requires looking past old beliefs and representations of reality.