Houston, We Have a Solution!

May 19, 2011

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

“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

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

John Deere’s Pink Bat

February 2, 2010

Deere & Company was founded in 1837. Since its humble beginnings, it has grown into an international corporation that today employs approximately 56,000 people throughout the world.

A few years back, Deere hired me to design a coffee table book that would capture its rich history and more importantly, convey its core values. The title of the book was Genuine Values. I, along with the CEO and a few senior executives, built this idea around the following values: integrity, quality, commitment and innovation. We felt these words best reflected the core values exhibited by its founder and that have successfully guided Deere up to today.

In my new book, Pink Bat: Turning Problems Into Solutions, I share the John Deere story from a different perspective… from its very inception. It’s easy to talk about the after effects… the success story that followed. But when you realize this international corporation started when one young man saw a “problem” as a solution… the story is even more amazing. Read more

My “Radical” Healthcare Solution

January 30, 2010

Okay, but face it, Michael… you’re a radical, Jim said to me the other night at dinner. The first time I recall being called a radical was back in grade school. It was also the first time I had ever heard the word, and I didn’t know what it meant. Based on my teacher’s tone, and the fact that my thinking didn’t align with others, I assumed it meant something bad. Over time I learned its meaning and looking back on that first experience, my teacher’s use of the word was pretty accurate. It seems I was, and according to Jim, still am a radical.

His accusation came during a discussion concerning healthcare. Jim’s position was pretty simple: Government should stay the hell out of healthcare… period. After a few more statements along the same vein, I realized Jim, like many U.S. citizens, had taken the bait. By bait, I mean the propaganda that has become the faulty cornerstone of the so-called “healthcare” debate. What made me a radical in his eyes is that I didn’t accept it. I was interested in discussing “health” care… not “sick” care. Jim wanted to argue about government involvement, insurance companies, hospitals, drug companies and so on… politics.

When you stop listening to rhetoric and start looking at reality (facts and evidence), most “problems” start looking different. Healthcare is no exception. It has little to do with the issues being discussed in Washington or in the media. Read more

Solutions That Stick

January 23, 2010

In 1942 when researchers were searching for a way to make clear plastic gun sights, they formulated a substance called cyanoacrylates. It didn’t work. In fact, they considered it a big problem. Why? It stuck to everything! Based on this, they rejected it.

In 1951 a new team of researchers rediscovered the formula. But this time, rather than reject it, one of the scientists was intrigued with its bonding properties. By viewing it for what it really was (and by contrast, seeing it for what it wasn’t), he set his imagination to work and saw it for what it could be.

His solution? Cyanoacrylates made for an amazing SUPER GLUE! In fact, it could bond almost anything you could imagine. The stickiness problem became the solution… or so it seemed.

Paradoxically, when it was discovered that the formula really did bond nearly anything, including human skin, its strength quickly became its perceived weakness. For the company planning to produce this new product, the potential legal issues and dangers far outweighed the benefits. Once again, cyanoacrylates became a problem.

That is, until the U.S. military heard about it. At the time, doctors in Vietnam were looking for a quick way to suture wounded soldiers. This “problem” substance once again became a great solution and saved many people’s lives in the process. Cyanoacrylates in one form or another are still being used today in medical applications around the world. Read more

Finding Solutions

January 19, 2010

Turning problems into solutions requires that we adjust our perception, suspend our judgments, and remain open-minded to all possibilities. In other words, it means seeing reality for what it “really” is and for what it “really” isn’t.

Since our brain filters through volumes of random data each moment, selecting and rejecting evidence to support our beliefs, we need to consciously define and focus our attention on what it is we are seeking.

Look at the following words and quickly say the actual color aloud (not the word).

If you’re like most people, even this simple challenge requires effort to reprogram your brain. With practice, this task becomes easier once you focus more on the color and less on the actual word.

What we believe and focus on… becomes our reality. If you go out looking for trouble, you’ll find it. If you focus on happiness, it will appear. Once you decide what you’re looking for, your brain will go to work to find it and make it your reality. Whether you’re focused on problems or solutions, it doesn’t matter… your brain will subconsciously gather evidence and make it your reality.

Remember, evidence that could disprove our beliefs is marginalized or blocked by our brain filters, while weaker or even false evidence is distorted or enhanced to support them.

Since labeling something helps make it so, why not start by labeling a “problem” as a “solution”? While this may seem counterintuitive at first, successful people have been seeing problems as solutions since the beginning of time. Read more

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