Seeing Unseen Solutions

April 27, 2011

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

“Pink Bat” Stairs

January 25, 2011

This short video is an excellent (and fun) example of “Pink Bat” thinking… turning “problems” into solutions. The perceived problem was the stairs… most people preferred using the escalator instead.

When we look past accepted labels, suspend our judgment, and tap into our creativity… a real world of possibilities emerges. Consider the “Pink Bat” elevator example… and to think it was also considered a problem! Are you surrounded by “problems”… or are they unseen solutions, just waiting for you to see them? The world we focus on is the world we create. Have fun turning problems into solutions.

“We must use time creatively,” MLK, Jr.

January 17, 2011

Last week I was in DC delivering a keynote to a group of educators—superintendents, principals and vice principals. The event theme, Turning Problems Into Solutions, is the subtitle of my book, Pink Bat. My challenge was to inspire the audience to embrace creative thinking, look at “problems” in a new light, and to provide tools they could use to motivate the many teachers they influence. The client had great expectations… and I had only 45 minutes to make it happen. I’m happy to report the audience was wonderful, and based on the feedback, the event was a success. It seems I made my 45 minutes count…

Since Anne was able to join me, we decided to stay an extra day and explore our nation’s capital. We walked a good ten miles, taking in the many sites DC has to offer. At some point we found ourselves climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And then, unintentionally, we both stopped short of reaching the massive marble statue and bowed our heads… eighteen steps short to be exact. With heads bowed, we read the inscription engraved in the step, “I HAVE A DREAM. Martin Luther King, Jr., The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.” My mind raced and I became overwhelmed with emotions. Without thinking about it, we found ourselves standing on the very step from which Dr. King delivered his historic speech.

After a moment… I honestly don’t know how long we stood there… we eventually made our way up the remaining steps and listened to the National Park Ranger’s presentation. While his presentation was informative and the monument was inspiring, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dr. King. I returned to the step and stood directly on it. Looking out over the National Mall, I closed my eyes and traveled back to 1963. I was five years old when Dr. King shared his dream, but I remember it vividly… watching it on a black and white TV screen, hearing it repeated on the radio, listening to adults and kids discuss it as I tried to reconcile his words, their words, and my thoughts about the turbulent times. Dr. King was then… and remains… one of my heroes.

I opened my eyes briefly to take in the entire scene before closing them again and trying to remember the words spoken here some 48 years ago. He conveyed so much in such a profoundly eloquent and compelling way. But it was the end of his speech—the part where Dr. King departed from his prepared notes and improvised—when his vision became known to the world. Apparently, Mahalia Jackson, an African-American gospel singer, prompted him by shouting, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” And tell us he did.

When we returned to our hotel that evening, I looked up the “I Have a Dream” transcript and read the words several times. Then something profound struck me. In this iconic speech, this brilliant man masterfully referenced numerous biblical allusions, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” an old Negro spiritual, and so much more… all in seventeen minutes! What more can be said?

“Think Outside the Box”… but Look Behind the Curtain

February 17, 2010

The first time I heard the phrase “Think Outside the Box” was shortly after I had graduated from college. I was working at a small but thriving visual communications firm. Concerned about growing too fast and losing control, the president invited a few business consultants in to see if they could help us manage our growth. Being a rookie designer, I was honored when the president asked me to attend the presentations.

Perhaps the stars were aligned just so that week, but of the three consultancies invited to present, the first two started their presentations the exact same way… by challenging us with a nine-dot puzzle. Solving it required connecting each dot using four straight, continuous lines—without lifting the pen from the paper.

The first consultant seemed taken aback by our questions and passion toward solving it. Apparently he had come in expecting to present the puzzle, answer a few predictable questions, watch us make some failed attempts, and then give us the answer. Until that day, he had only presented to business executives who had little interest in solving visual puzzles—not graphic designers.

By using a very wide marker, all nine dots could be connected with only one line.

When I asked him if we could use one line rather than four, he just smiled. “If you can solve the puzzle using only one line, by all means, be my guest. Just make certain it’s a straight line… and don’t lift your pen.” Before I could respond, he added, “If you solve it with four lines, lunch is on me… solve it with one line and I’ll make certain you get a raise… and bonus, too,” then winked at the president of our firm.

When I explained that my solution required a very wide pen, he began shaking his head and then with a dismissive laugh said, “No… I’m afraid that would be cheating… you have to use a standard size pen.” Then he held his marker up for everyone to see before asking again, “Okay, are you ready for the answer?” 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