High Line Solution

June 20, 2011

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

“Pink Bat” Cure

October 17, 2010

Last October I wrote the following:

It’s late. The final Pink Bat manuscript is due tomorrow. From my office I can see several Chicago landmark buildings lit with pink lights. It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Amidst this pink glow—the posters, the ribbons, and special events—we are all reminded of the search for solutions to save lives. The color connection to this cause… and my book title… is obvious. Less obvious, but more relevant, is the thinking found inside.

For every problem, there exists a solution… and at the very least, an opportunity. Breast cancer is no different. But it takes an open mind… imagination, purpose and passion… to find it. In time, this “problem” will be viewed differently… and an unseen solution will appear. Perhaps an outsider will see what experienced insiders have missed. Someone less influenced by perceptual blindness… an unlikely suspect.
Read more

Beyond Labels

May 21, 2010

An author, enigma, husband, lazy, philosopher, stupid, intelligent, uncle, dreamer, kind, father, sincere, creative genius, son, public speaker, radical, friend, loving, designer, liberal, conservative, insightful, extremist, smart ass, brilliant, idiot, businessman, brother, left-wing, right-wing… these are some of the words and labels people have used to describe me over the past year. Some have been shared directly, others behind my back. While some labels are more objective and useful to communicate, others are subjective and open to interpretation. Notice the contradictions in my labels? That’s because they are projections. Labels reflect as much about the labeler as they do the person being labeled. Since I put little merit in subjective labels, I try not to let them influence my thinking. As people we are more than labels… and reality always trumps words.

While labels simplify the world, provide context and help us organize our thoughts, they don’t define reality. In business, people are given titles to describe a role or position. These labels don’t describe who they are, or what they’re capable of doing. The same holds true with children. Have you ever heard a conversation along these lines?

“My daughter is gifted… she’s in all the advanced classes!”

“That’s wonderful, my son is LD… actually, he’s ADD… and in special classes.

“My oldest son is ADHD and he went on to college. My daughter is average… she’s getting by in regular classes… if she worked harder she could be in AP courses.” Read more

Sacred Cows and Innovation

April 6, 2010

Without all the pieces, it’s hard to solve a puzzle… and developing innovative solutions is no different. I’ve always considered the creative process a search for truth. That’s what I love about creativity… it has no “sacred cows*”… everything is fair game and anything is possible. When you consider that creativity fuels innovation, the notion of truth (the whole truth and nothing but) can’t be taken lightly—especially if you’re really serious about innovation.

The number of “sacred cows” that dwell within organizations always intrigues me. You can see them in government, education, business and religious institutions. They can even be found in your own home! Contrary to popular belief, everyone has “sacred cows,” existing at every level and in many forms. Once you start looking for them, they’re relatively easy to spot. How? Start by asking some basic questions or suggesting some alternative ideas and watch how people respond. The more honest and logical your questions are, the better. You’ll soon realize that sacred cows are immune from questions or criticism, so doing either makes people defend them. Expect to hear these kinds of responses:
“That won’t work.”
“That violates the rules.”
“We shouldn’t be discussing this.”
“You don’t understand…”
“I can’t believe you asked such a question.”
“You’re missing the point.”
“That could get you fired.”
“It’s too complicated.”
“That’s outside our process.”
“You’re being irreverent.”
“That’s too radical.”
“That’s not the way we do things here.”
“You don’t have the authority.”

In addition, these kinds of responses are often cloaked in argot to make them appear more complicated, important or official-sounding than what they really are. Read more

Blind to Blindness

March 14, 2010

Anne and I met Claire the first day we moved into our new apartment. Having lived in the building for nearly 20 years, she was a wealth of knowledge. Claire appeared to be in her mid-60s, so we were surprised when she told us she had just turned 78. She attributed her youthful appearance to her diet and the fact she walks her dogs several times a day—one dog at a time. When she found out we were animal lovers, she let us in on a little secret. “According to the building’s bylaws you’re only supposed to have up to two dogs… but I have three,” she whispered. Then she continued, “I know I’m breaking the rules, but my three guys don’t bother a soul and I take darn good care of them.” Claire was charming… and no doubt, her dogs were well cared for.

The next day I saw Claire walking one of her dogs. I smiled, waved and said good morning. To my surprise, she just stared at me. Her warm smile and friendly demeanor were missing. That evening, I shared my experience with Anne. “Maybe she was deep in thought?” That was possible but it didn’t seem likely. “Plus, she actually looked a bit angry,” I added. When Anne pointed out that I might be over analyzing the situation and that I can sometimes be a bit overly sensitive… I concluded she was probably right.

But her theory was quickly dispelled the following morning when Anne and I both saw Claire on one of her walks. We smiled, waved and said, “Good morning… it looks like it’s going to be beautiful today!” Claire not only didn’t respond… she actually looked irritated and turned away. We couldn’t believe it. “Did you say something yesterday that could have offended her?” Anne asked. I certainly couldn’t think of anything. A few days later a similar encounter took place… and then again a day after that. I was growing tired of going out of my way to be nice, only to be shunned. 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.