High Line Solution

Back in the 90’s, former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, along with a number of Manhattan citizens identified a major problem. The problem was an abandoned elevated rail… it was “standing in the way of progress.”

The High Line was built in the 1930s to provide freight service to Manhattan’s largest industrial district. Back in the day, the High Line moved freight cars through the center of blocks, connecting them directly to businesses, factories and warehouses. In addition, by elevating the tracks, the number of pedestrian deaths caused by train accidents was greatly reduced. The High Line, so it seemed, was a successful solution on many levels.

Starting in the 1950s, the growth in interstate trucking caused a drop in rail traffic. This trend continued into the 60s, when due to lack of demand, the southernmost section of the High Line was demolished. In 1980, the High Line was shut down. In the eyes of most people, this historic solution had become a major problem.

Citizens and property owners lobbied for the removal of this abandoned relic. Mayor Giuliani adamantly agreed… it was indeed a serious problem. If progress was to be made, this eyesore must go. The High Line was slated for demolition.

Like all great Pink Bat thinkers, freelance writer Joshua David and artist Robert Hammond remained open-minded. They knew that a “problem” is often a mislabeled solution… just waiting to be seen. The two first met in 1999 at a community meeting slated to discuss the High Line’s future. Read more

Houston, We Have a Solution!

Since my flight to Houston didn’t leave until 12:40 PM, I spent the morning packing, answering Emails, reviewing my keynote‚ and enjoying the peace of mind one derives from not being rushed. Traffic was light and I arrived at O’Hare in record time. It seemed the stars were in perfect alignment.

The flight took off on time and before long, we were preparing to land. Suddenly, the plane zigged, the storms zagged, adults screamed, and children cried. Our smooth sailing craft, at the hands of Mother Nature, had been transformed into a trackless roller coaster. People who had forgotten how to pray suddenly remembered.

The turbulence was so extreme the pilot bypassed Houston and landed in Austin where the plane was to be inspected for damage. My fellow travelers and I stood at the gate, mentally and physically disheveled, awaiting our fate. Some sent text messages, others called loved ones, and a few reached out to comfort one another. At times like this, it becomes apparent—we humans have far more in common than not. I called my wife, Anne, to see if she could find another flight into Houston. No luck.

Many passengers remained focused on the “problems” at hand. They provided each other with affirmations, complained to agents, and gathered evidence to support their beliefs. Within an hour, our flight had been rescheduled on another plane for later that evening… and then delayed once again for even later. My gut told me the third rescheduling was not going to be the charm.

“Has anyone checked on ground transportation?” I asked a group of passengers that were commiserating at the bar. “No, it’s too far to drive‚ about four hours. We’re just going to wait it out,” said one woman as she raised her glass to toast the decision. The others followed suit. As I thanked her, she wrinkled her nose in a peculiar way and said, “Find the tall woman in the white sweater; she’s thinking about renting a car.” I couldn’t tell if it was the alcohol talking, or if a suppressed memory had unexpectedly surfaced. In any case, it seemed surreal—like Alice’s encounter with the Cheshire Cat. I skeptically scanned the crowd and to my amazement, found my version of “The White Rabbit” standing less than 20 feet away, talking to some fellow passengers. This trip was becoming “curiouser and curiouser!” Perhaps I was in Wonderland? Read more

Seeing Unseen Solutions

I recently closed a speech with this challenge: “You can live each day in a world filled with “problems,” or rise each morning and embrace a world filled with unseen solutions… eager for you to find them. The decision is yours… both worlds exist. The one you choose is the one you will create.”

Afterwards, during a Q&A session, a young man remarked, “Your presentation was awesome, but how do you go about seeing unseen solutions?” What a great question! In a nutshell, here’s my answer:

Seeing “unseen solutions” starts by believing they exist. This is fundamental. Without this belief and a willingness to suspend our judgment and remain open to new possibilities, unseen solutions remain just that–unseen.

Secondly, when one appears, we need to accept it. That’s right… unseen solutions try to get our attention on a regular basis, but we’re too busy working and living to notice. Because most potential solutions dwell on the edge of our perception, we usually overlook, ignore, or dismiss them. Occasionally, a potential solution is so persistent; we can’t help but catch a glimpse of it. When this happens, we briefly acknowledge it, believing we’ll remember it. But when we try recalling it, we discover it’s gone… or parts are missing.

While some solutions appear all at once, most come in small flashes that strike us when we least expect it… when we’re reading, taking a shower, on a walk, exercising or daydreaming. These flashes are fleeting gifts! We all receive them, but few take them seriously. To quote my late grandfather, “When God whispers in your ear, pay attention.” Read more

Planting Seeds of Change

Recently, while driving to a meeting, I started thinking about healthy food. How can the average American (if such a person exists) avoid eating GM (genetically modified) fruits and vegetables inundated with pesticides and fertilizers? My first thought was to buy organic. I often do, even though it’s more expensive, but many households can’t afford it. During the summer, I frequent outdoor markets and buy from local organic farmers. This is fine during the warm months and I enjoy meeting with the farmers and supporting them… but it’s also expensive. Besides, what do you do about the rest of the year?

Back in the day we used to have a garden. While it takes time, gardening is a viable solution to the current alternatives. And what isn’t eaten during the growing season can be shared, canned and frozen. As I drove, I envisioned my family working with me… everyone pitching in and reaping a bounty of fresh produce. I imagined sharing with my neighbors and… then reality struck! I live in downtown Chicago, and there’s not a lot of arable land on the 28th floor!

Soon I found myself in the suburbs, driving down a residential street. An elderly couple stood in their yard talking to a couple guys in uniforms… and then I spotted the lawn chemical truck in the driveway.

I remembered spending money on lawn chemicals when we lived in the suburbs. Why do people spend time and money growing, cutting and maintaining grass? Who came up with this idea? Is it social conditioning, tradition… perceptual blindness? My questions triggered a rush of ideas and visions… I had a flashback to my time spent in Germany. The cemeteries I had visited there were so beautiful and the locals took such pride in creating and maintaining them. I began to envision suburban neighborhoods filled with beautiful gardens… like a Monet painting composed of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. Visions of crop circles, corn mazes and rows of fruit trees, and beautifully designed vegetable patterns of all shapes, colors and kinds raced through my head. My brain was crystallizing with interconnected concepts and possibilities. The benefits of replacing worthless grass lawns with beautiful functioning gardens seemed endless… Read more

Seeing Beyond Labels

Carol waited for me to leave the venue before introducing herself. I had just spoken to a business audience at a corporate event. But to Carol, my message struck a personal chord and she wanted to let me know—just not in front of her peers.

You made me cry, she said, but quickly added, tears of joy.

During my speech I had explained how our focus creates our reality. If we focus on trouble, we’ll find it. If we focus on happiness, it will appear. I also shared how labels influence our perception. When we label something a problem, it becomes one. These labels act as filters to enhance our perceptual blindness.

My speech ended with a story about a kid who quit school in 2nd grade. He didn’t actually quit attending—he just stopped participating. He was smart—but didn’t do well in school. Based on his free spirit, unusual views and pointed questions, some teachers and adults labeled him as a “problem.” This label stuck and became a self-fulfilling prophecy up until the end of high school. Then an unexpected event took place—one that would forever change his life. To the amazement of many, the “problem” kid not only attended college, but was accepted into a competitive program and graduated first in his class. From there, the boy who quit school in 2nd grade founded and built a multi-million dollar visual communications firm, became an internationally recognized designer, and attracted a client roster that read like the Who’s Who of Business. After twenty consecutive years of growth, he sold his firm and became a best-selling author, creative consultant and public speaker… and I’m honored to be speaking to you tonight, I concluded.

What happened? What changed my life? Read more

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