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” 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?

“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

Pink Bat Video

September 11, 2010


The idea for this video struck me one evening after seeing a UPS commercial. Uncertain of the best way to turn my concept into reality, I called my friend Ryan Schiewe to see if he had any ideas. As expected, he had several. Most involved green screens, projectors, special digital effects, large studios… and big budgets.

“What if I stood at a real whiteboard and you actually filmed me drawing?” I suggested. Ryan agreed to give it a try but stressed, “We won’t be able to refine or manipulate your drawings to look perfect… like those in the UPS commercials.” After purchasing a 4’ x 8’ sheet of whiteboard material, we set up a makeshift studio in Ryan’s living room and did a few quick tests. Before long, we concluded while this approach was somewhat problematic—and not real plausible—it was possible. That was all it took. Read more

Happy bEARTHday!

April 20, 2010

Years ago I met a guy named Noel. Noel was his first name—and he hated it. “Since I was born on Christmas, my parents thought it was an appropriate name,” Noel told me. What he hated more than his name was his birth date. “We can never celebrate ‘my day,’ it’s always overshadowed by Christmas,” he explained. Noel wasn’t a very happy person. It was rare to see him smile. I don’t know if it was his name, his birth date or something else… but his attitude did seem to worsen during December.

My birthday falls on April 22—Earth Day. Because I was in 6th grade when the first Earth Day was celebrated, my parents weren’t tempted to name me Eartha, Fern, Gaia, Ocean, Zoe… or some other Earth-related name. But if they had, I don’t think I would have minded. What’s in a name—right? Unlike Noel, I’m glad my birthday falls on an important date—especially this one. I love the concept of Earth Day and feel honored to share “my day” celebrating it. I consider it my bEARTHday, so to speak.

We have no control over where and when we are born, or what we’re named, for that matter. While we don’t control the circumstances we are born into, we do choose our responses, attitudes and actions. In other words, our choices create our lives. Our choices also affect the Earth. Hopefully as we’re creating our lives, we are also creating a better world. Think about it—without Earth, we have no place to live. We couldn’t exist. Recognizing this fact, can you think of anything more important than caring for our planet? I can’t. That’s why I’m committed to being a responsible Earth citizen.

For me, this commitment is easy. Not only is it logical, it’s natural, too. It resonates with my soul. I realized long ago when something resonates with your soul, it’s important to embrace it. That’s why I speak out against corporations that pollute our planet, deplete our resources and mistreat people, animals… and nature. Yes, I believe in capitalism… but not at the expense of our earth and its inhabitants. That’s why I support “green” businesses.

Doing what’s right and challenging the status quo takes courage… but when we don’t make good choices and don’t challenge those who pollute and mistreat our planet, we become part of the problem.

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE… but mostly… RESPECT our planet. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” I agree with Einstein… and the time is NOW. We need to start thinking differently and creating new sustainable Earth-friendly solutions. The status quo has lost its status. Let’s make certain future generations can experience this miraculous living planet filled with its endless beauty and wonder. Together, WE can make this world a better place. Happy Earth Day!

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

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