Karl Duncker, a Gestalt psychologist, set up an experiment testing the ingenuity of the human mind. On a table he placed a box of tacks, a book of matches, and a candle. The objective, attach the candle to the wall. Participants eyed down the materials. Some tried to use the tacks to fasten the candle to the wall. Not bad, but not successful. Others stepped up their game, trying to melt the candle to the wall by burning the wax. Still no call for celebration.
Not until they stretched their minds and overcame their fixed mindsets were participants able to crack this riddle. If you no longer see the box of tacks as solely a holder for those tacks, but also a means to attach the candle to the wall, then you are utilizing something we call creativity, a means of using ones imagination to create original ideas.
In conducting this experiment, Duncker discovered a phenomena known as functional fixedness, using objects only for their preexisting functions. Participants had trouble overcoming their preconceived thought of the boxes’ purpose. What is interesting was that with a slight manipulation of the experiment Duncker found vastly different results. When the tacks were placed outside the box participants were two times more likely to figure out the problem. They no longer saw the box for the sole purpose of holding the tacks. Instead the box carries with it many possible uses, in this case the use of fastening a candle to a wall.
Now I’m not bashing our abilities to think creatively, merely pointing out the notion that at times something that could be very obvious can lay hidden right in plain sight. In this case it was the candle box. Staring participants in the face the entire time, the box did not change or come with some instruction manual the second time around. No, it was the context of the box that let us think about it in different ways.
We see things for their uses and we see potential in those uses. But what are we not seeing? Clearly, as this experiment demonstrates, there are many functions for even the simplest things, like a box of tacks, that we don’t realize. That, in turn, means that there are hidden potentials that we are unaware of. Things we never realized were there, could be right in front of us the entire time.
Seeing things in unique and unprecedented ways is your power, your perception. Okay, this is going to sound cliche, but creativity comes from within. It is your ability, your cognition, and your choice. It is so commonly referred when describing artists because it, like art, simply exists. It is not told what it should be or how it should look. Like the strokes of a paintbrush, its movements reflect the imagination of its artist. So when you add incentive to creativity it tends to diminish because it is no longer just existing. It is now linked to the fate of supplemental benefits.
The candle box experiment was tweaked once again, this time manipulating a time sensitive incentive one received upon completion. Group A was told they were simply being timed to establish norms for how long it typically took for someone to complete the puzzle. Group B was given a cash prize for completing this candle conundrum in the fastest time.
The results proved most interesting. It took on average three and a half additional minutes for the incentive group to figure out how to attach the candle to the wall. That’s right, the group that had no external motivator finished significantly faster. In Daniel Pink’s Drive, he provides extensive research and support that, “an incentive designed to clarify thinking and sharpen creativity ended up clouding thinking and dulling creativity.”
Why is this so? Rewards narrow focus. You are thinking of the end result and lose site of the wide view of functions and variety. And so my cliche use of the phrase, “creativity comes from within” shows its purpose. You see the world as you choose to. There are copious ways to look at a single stimulus in the environment. Just because something is given a purpose does not mean it is limited to those terms. Yet by default this is how we tend to think.
Examine your life. Everything in it you perceive a certain way. The objects you have, the people you encounter, the relationships you’ve made, all serve their functions in life. But if a box that holds tacks can do more then keep shiny, metal circles, then what do you think that means for the more substantial things in your life? What things have you had a fixed mindset on? Challenge these automatic thoughts and behaviors in your life. They could be causing you to hold out on some pretty amazing stuff. The ability to see this world and all its different shades of grey comes from within, everything else is just another shade of grey.
June 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Team Building Tools | No comment
The difference between intention and action is courage. It gives life to our virtues. It is the foundation that creates a reality around those beliefs.
The word courage comes from the same stem as the French word Coeur, meaning heart. In Rollo May’sThe Courage to Create, he explains how courage is the essence that pumps vitality into all our virtues. Without courage, who we are, simply would not exist, and our fidelity would fade into conformism.
The presence of courage does not mean the absence of fear, it is rather the ability to move beyond it. Feel the fear and do it anyway. It keeps us sharp, on edge, and on point.
Everything your body does when the pressure is on is good for performance. Bill Russell was one of the greats in the game of basketball winning an NCAA Championship, Olympic Gold Medal, and professional championship all in the same year. Here’s the kicker, before every single game Russell would throw up. His nerves would keep him on point. So much so, that in 1963, when didn’t puke before games he had his greatest slump of his career. He then got to the playoffs, puked, and played one of the best games of the season.
Feel the fear and do it anyway. Trust in your abilities and allow them to flow. Do not suppress them in fear. Like a squirrel scurrying across a telephone wire it doesn’t think, “oh geez, I’m going to fall.” It doesn’t think at all it just scurries.
The only need you have in life is to fulfill your own potential. And you already have what you need inside of you. It is your own unique abilities. Be courageous and act upon them! They will bring your virtues to life. Any resistance you feel is only a natural reaction that even the best experience.
Rollo May’s extremely empowering outlook calls on our accountability. If you do not express your original ideas you will betray not only yourself but your community in not making your contribution.
There is something very special in you that needs to be shared with this world. No one else can share it – it is up to you and you alone.
It takes courage to be legendary. Courage to be your authentic self, courage to help form the structure of the new world, and courage to act on your beliefs. But in order to do incredible things you must have incredible ideas. You might be labeled an an idealist, an audacious maverick, or a crazy fool, but legendary outcomes are not about the odds they are about the actions.
June 3, 2011 at 8:39 am | Courage | No comment
There was an Indian tribe residing in the Shuswap region of British Colombia. This specific region was considered by the Indian people to be a rich place. There was plenty of salmon and game, vast amounts of below-ground resources, and plenty of fertile land. They built village sites and had elaborate technologies to effectively cultivate the resources. The Indians looked at their lives to be rich and good.
Yet, over time the elders began to find predictability throughout their days. With everything so readily available, challenge began to go out of life. Without challenge, life had no meaning.
So the elders gathered and discussed what they should do. Through discourse and in their wisdom they decided the village should move. Every 25 to 30 years, the entire population would move to a different part of the Shuswap land, and there, they found challenge. There were lands to fertilize, new game trails to learn, new areas to navigate. Life would regain its meaning and everyone would feel rejuvenated and happy. Incidentally, it also allowed resources in one area to recover after years of harvesting.
The need for challenge. It is an essential part of our lives. We all have days when we wish we could just have things handed to us. Money, jobs, knowledge, health, people. The list goes on, but if we were to magically acquire our, desires would we really be happy? Or as the Shuswap elders predicted, would life loose its meaning.
This tribe had it all. They were the Rockefellers of the Indian world. But even surrounded by all these riches, the people were still unfulfilled.
We think if, if only I had ‘this’ then I would have the means to do ‘that’. But by not being handed what you want, it allows you to focus in, face the challenge, and achieve what you need.
A psychology study manipulated the initiation of being part of the experimenter. Little did the participants know, the initiation was actually the study. The first group completed quite simple and basic tasks and then went on to partake in an arbitrary study. The second group had to go through much more difficult initiation. The tasks were harder. Some of them were embarrassing and required significantly more involvement from the participants. When the study was over, who do you think valued the study more? The latter group. It was a relatively meaningless study, but because it was more challenging and greater amounts of effort went into the process, the second group found significantly more meaning in the study.
We thrive for challenge. If you were given everything you wanted in this world, would you become complacent? Probably not. We are constantly seeking stimulation. No one wants to sit around and do the same word search over and over again. We know how it works out, we know the answers, we want something new, something unfamiliar – something unknown.
Having it all does not give you a life of fulfillment. Next time your tested by something, challenged by its complexity, tired from its rigors, ask yourself would you have it any other way?
June 1, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Better Business | No comment
What if there was an immeasurable power that existed. This power could transform your reality. It could bring hope, optimism, motivation, change, love, achievement, and beauty to your life. Would you use this power, going after everything you wanted, or would you simply let it go to waste?
This power is the story of you. It is what makes your life so interesting, so authentic, so…empowering. Think about the structure of a story.
A story made up of chapters. Chapters containing sequences of events. Some foreshadowing others. Others prefacing some. And the rest are unknown twists of irony eluding any means of prediction.
The pages written can serve a versatile function. Those pages could be setting up events to come or they could mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
The important piece, is that we are the author of these stories. We write them and thus live them. And where do we gather material filling the copious leather-bound pages of the intricate chronicles of life? We gather them from our experiences.
Actions are consistently happening to us. We tell stories of these events. We tell stories based off our perceptions, our reactions, our interpretations, and inevitably, what we come to believe. And if beliefs shape our reality, then the perceptions of actions of our past influence our interaction with the events of our future.
But you see, our book of life is filled with stories not actions. And so, as moments engage in the well practiced routine of moving forward, we forget the actual occurrence and remember the stories we tell.
In some way, the authentic instance is less important than the story we put on it. So our stories hold a pivotal role, as they serve as the context of our life.
So if something happened, some action took place, and we tell ourselves the story that we are not good enough, it begins to become our reality. For reality is what you make it. In some ways, reality is not the actions that occur, but the way you perceive those events.
But our stories are as malleable as the words we use to shape them. If we are telling ourselves the story of not being good enough, the interpretation, the perception, and the inevitable belief originates from you.
You have created this interpretation. Whether it is be based off the context of how you should react to events or some subjective opinion – the creation of this story is solely traced back to the pen of its author. The reality you are living in is formed by your perception of past events.
In this way, we are all artists. Our days are a constant creation.
The best artists can take an object and see it a number of different ways. The same practice can be applied to the actions of our lives. There are many perceptions, many stories that could be told.
Some stories take courage to tell. A story of ‘can’ sets the bar high. I can create beautiful art, I can be a loving spouse, I can make a difference in the lives of others, I can find fulfillment in my work, I can loose ten pounds, I can renew a lost relationship, I can be accepted and loved by others.
The ability of can lies in the story you tell. What we tell ourselves is impossible, simply hasn’t been written yet. It is unknown. Those words lie in the pages to come, and those pages lie in the stories you tell.
The only thing that is, the only thing that truly exists, is the reality your mind creates. It effectively gathers its plot, tone, imagery, characters, and theme from the content you have created. Then, there is nothing left to do, but play out the sequence of events according to your self-created potential.
This is the most important story of your life. Let it be audacious and unimaginable. Let it be brilliant and ridiculous. Let it be extraordinary and legendary. But most of all let it be you – the surreal, beautiful story, written and lived by you.
So then, what’s your story?
May 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Legendary | No comment
“If it isn’t fun, why do it?” says Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.
Its ironic that what many of us dread, another day of work, is supposed to be an environment for productivity, creativity, and innovation.
Work and play are considered opposite ends of the spectrum. But can the two co-exist? Can we have some fun and dare I say even enjoy going into work? And if we can, what does that mean for results and outcomes?
David Ogilvy, head of an advertising agency says, “Make it fun to work at your agency. When people aren’t having fun they seldom produce good advertising.”
“Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father,” said Roger von Oech.
Yet when the idea of play is brought up, it’s like violating the sacred sanctuary of the office. It will only distract and detract. What other offices incorporate play into their work culture? Aren’t casual Friday’s sufficient?
A company seeks for its employees to generate new ideas. This is accomplished by the unexpected joining of two old elements creating something new. Bringing fun to the workplace could not only produce innovation, but the joining of these two elements is innovation.
There is no harm in planting some seeds to make your workplace more enjoyable. In fact, there is significant benefit. Creativity, camaraderie, increase in results, and a breeding ground for ingenuity, just to name a few. Not to mention your own personal well-being gets a boost.
Be creative. Find ways to make work fun. Because if it isn’t fun, why do it?
Here are some ideas to get the wheels turning.
Darts. Put a dart board up in the conference room for people to play when they need a break.
Get outdoors. On a nice day get outside. Suggest holding one of your meetings outdoors. Who knows what ideas could arise from mother nature.
Decorate. Decorate your office with stuff you enjoy. Bring in kids pictures or artwork to hang in the office lobby or break room.
Talent Show. No one can resist showing off what they are good at.
Dress Up Day. Every now and then you can’t deny, you enjoy dressing up.
Personal Project. Structure into the work curriculum a project to work on with no guidelines – completely up to whatever each person is interested in. (Google has gotten most of its ideas this way)
Group TV Shows. Once a week, or even once a month, watch a favorite TV show. The Office perhaps…
Baby Pictures. Put up a board of baby pictures and guess who is who.
Dance. Turn up the tunes and show off some moves. While your doing it check out the lyrics for the songs you always lip sing to (ie. Macaroni)
Making the work place more enjoyable will ultimately turn it into an environment generating some legendary ideas.
May 22, 2011 at 8:33 am | Better Business | No comment
Decision making occurs on a moment to moment basis. Sometimes it is automatic. We make decisions that are so second nature we don’t even realize they’re decisions. Sometimes we think long and hard. We try and gather all the information we can and rely on reason to guide us on making the right choice.
Rationality is a powerful agent in the decision making realm, but what is truest in its rawest form are our emotions. Basically put they outline and motivate us toward our instinctual desires – what we really want. But more times then not, we are met with decisions that we try to over think, causing the outcome to actually fall astray from what we really want.
Psychologist, Timothy Wilson, replicated several distinct studies examining the decision making process. He asked college females to pick their favorite poster from five possible options: A Monet landscape, a van Gogh of some purple lilies, and three funny cat posters.
He split the participants up in two groups. One group was the non-thinking group. They were simply asked to rate each poster on a scale from one to ten. The second group had the harder task explaining why they liked or disliked the poster before rating each. At the end each participant left with their favorite poster.
It was interesting to observe the different decisions made between the two groups. Ninety-five percent of the non-thinkers chose either the Monet or van Gogh pieces. While, the thinking group, was spilt down the middle between the paintings and the humorous cat posters.
A follow up interview revealed that the non-thinking group was much more satisfied with their decision. While 75 percent of the people who had chosen the cat poster regretted their selection, nobody regretted choosing one of the artistic posters. How is that, through greater means of thinking and analysis, decision making became skewed and reflected distorted choices?
An explanation of our likes or dislikes requires us to use language. Thus, bypassing out instinctual cognitions and forcing us to describe an external stimuli solely through verbalization. Descriptions of Monet’s landscape on van Gogh’s lilies, although generating a positive reaction, were tough explain. Perhaps, we don’t know how to put language to the one’s we really like, we just know we like them. While the simple, humorous cat posters were much easier to explain. Participants had a much more in-depth explanation of why they liked the cat posters and therefore chose those for their favorite pieces.
This simple study uncovers a decision making process that might otherwise be masked in rationality. No doubt there are decisions in life that require laborious analysis and in depth consideration. But there are also times when we have to act on our instincts. They carry with them a deep rooted emotional cue that would otherwise be lost when trying to rationalize the decision.
We also like to do things in life that we can explain. It is like the pavement of our choices. A justification for why we made them and an aid in trying to see them through. But at times, certain things we do in life we cannot explain. We shouldn’t neglect those parts of our life just for that reason. Emotions are strong – they are charged with the essence of you. They are crucial to your decisions and to living a life that is your own.
It might be uncomfortable to be at the crossroads of an unpredictable decision – an unfamiliar choice, but if the idea excites you, then your heart is in it. Making the choice is easy because it is driven by the most unbiased, seeker of joy. You are behind it, it might not make sense to you right now, but it feels right. As wide as the scope of language reaches, it falls short at digging into our emotions – emotions which should not be left out when trying to navigate through your legendary adventure.
May 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Beliefs | No comment
It is the tiniest parts of life that can make the the biggest differences. A chess player won’t overlook the necessity of its pawns and a sprinter knows the importance of a tenth of a second.
A moment is valuable. Some more then others, but if we start to chuck them out the window like worthless pennies, we will most definitely neglect some of the most worthwhile ones.
Life comes at us in waves. Literally, giant, oceanic, swirling waves. Heaps of water crashing down, each with different breaking points.
In the midst of all this chaos of crashing, it becomes increasingly difficult to hone in on a single molecule of water. Each is part of a chain of events created by ripples and wind speed. In the midst of a wave, it is tough to appreciate a single drop of water. But it is the change in air pressure flickering across the individual molecules of water that gives birth to this massive swell – this unstoppable movement of change.
And so the culmination of these water molecules create something much bigger then itself. The same principle can be applied to life. Little achievements can make a big difference. In fact little achievements are the path to a big difference.
Financial guru, Dave Ramsey, illustrates the power of small successes though an unprecedented debt-fighting technique. While most financial consultants will take the obvious steps of paying out the highest interest debts first, Ramsey takes a different tactic, focusing in on other outstanding payments.
His game plan is simple, pay off the minimum payment on all outstanding debts and then put the rest of your money to paying off the smallest debt. Ramsey completely disregards high-interest debts. The idea being that you will quickly pay off the smallest loan and then move on to the next, and the next, creating a snowball effect of money being applied to the sequential debt payment.
You need quick wins to get you fired up. Our brain responds to these positive outcomes, giving us signs of hope. The timeless sports quote, “a win is a win,” could not be more true. Our mind recognizes and is stimulated by these accomplishments, no matter the size. They motivate us, rallying a mental effort preparing for the next positive feeling of a win.
Ramsey says, “If you pay $185 toward a $20,000 debt on a high interest credit card, you’re still going to feel hopeless. But if you completely pay off a $185 overdue utility bill, you can cross that off your list. You’ve won a small victory over debt.”
When we face overwhelming moments in life, those gigantic, crashing waves, we tend to avoid them. A wave builds up and breaks down by instinct. It is its very nature. Following this visceral pattern of mother nature, can aid in the accomplishment of extraordinary things. Break down looming obstacles, build up legendary moments. The tiniest actions, fit into our daily lives, stimulate positive emotions, and build a changing surge filled with the thrill of ecstasy, the power of legendary.
April 13, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Legendary | No comment
We interact with life through a set of contexts, a scale of possibilities. The bar gets set and everything under it becomes achievable.
We become familiar with the scales of our lives telling us what we can or cannot do. Everything within it, achievable. Everything beyond it, unknown.
If a 3 mile run is part of a person’s daily workout, they generally accomplish it with little doubt. They have a resume of successes from all their past runs. It acts as evidence for their ability – known, definite, and achievable.
Now say this person is asked to go on a 10 mile run. “Woah, hold on a sec now. That’s far.”
It is far if you’ve been used to 3 mile runs, but if you’re a person training for a marathon, 10 miles is a breeze.
It’s all about the context of the situation and the scales you have built in your life. They tell you what you can do just as much as they tell you what you cannot.
Think about all the scales in your life. Money, friends, enjoyment, exercise, success, creativity, knowledge, all set to a scale, our scale. I make x amount of money, I have y number of friends, I exercise that much, I’m this creativite. We fulfill these expectations for ourselves, but we have trouble surpassing them.
Change your scale, shift your context. Be unrealistic, be unreasonable. If you expect to run 10 miles everyday, even if you only get 5 or 6, it still makes that 3 miles a breeze.
Soon you set a new scale for yourself. You start gathering new evidence, accomplishing new things.
Everything you have done has currently gotten you to where you are. The context of your life shows all your current known abilities. Raise that bar.
Everything done this far is known, because it is past. The goals you set for the future can fall in line with your current context or they can be completely unrealistic in comparison.
Some would say it’s not good to be unreasonable or unrealistic. But when you’re reasonable you use the same strategies that worked before, the same scales that you know you will find success in.
If you set the bar high for yourself, if you embrace different strategies, set different goals, look at things with a new perspective you will breakthrough to new areas of your life.
Don’t live life to scale, that just isn’t realistic.
April 11, 2011 at 8:23 am | Legendary | No comment
This example, although extreme, is a powerful mindset. Burning your boats is essentially removing all excuses. If soldiers found themselves outgunned and outmanned they would have to come up with a strategy different then strength in numbers. When the option of retreat is off the table, ingenuity and innovation become the new battle tactics.
When we commit to an idea, we must burn our boats. Eliminate excuses. The ideas are as endless as your potentials. We shouldn’t spend time contemplating reasons why we cannot do something. Instead we should create a list entitled: Why it needs doing. At the top of the list sits three simple words, “because you can.”
If you don’t have enough money, borrow some. If you don’t have enough time, wake up an hour or two earlier, if you don’t know enough, learn! Burn your boats. If you do this, you no longer have an excuse to fall back on.
Thomas Edison often predicted he’d invent something by such a time. He would purposefully be premature with his publications so that he would have full incentive to get it done.
Jack Foster writes, “Chances are the things you’ll regret the most won’t be the dumb things you did during that time. They’ll be the things you didn’t do – the chance you didn’t take, the opportunity you didn’t seize, the idea you didn’t stay with. Take it. Seize it. Stay with it.”
With excuses off the table all that’s left to do it try – and try we must.
I had a conversation with traveler and blogger Lauren Rains about stepping into the unknown. I think she put it best when she outlined her own thoughts:
“Failure is always a possibility, but what if I don’t try, then I will never know. What if I don’t make a big difference? Well, what if I do? What about making small difference in peoples lives that otherwise wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t act?”
We are never fully aware of the ripple effect of our actions. So when the opportunity to retreat presents itself, when excuses begin to surface, and a life of ‘should haves’ begins to manifest, burn your boats, commit to action, and take a step into the unknown.
March 22, 2011 at 8:19 am | Better Business | No comment
There is the common misconception that with the influx of information there is an increase in knowledge.
We live in a world of rationalizers. I am going to tell you right here and now that openness is the remedy to a fixed mindset. Now let me momentarily diverge to give clarity to this idea of filtered conceptualization.
Politics. The argument can be made that the acquisition of information can be directly related to decrease in partisan bias. But knowing more about politics doesn’t necessarily accomplish this. Voters tend to assimilate facts that confirm what they already believe. They think they’re evaluating candidates, but what they are actually doing is inventing or ignoring facts so they can rationalize decisions already made.
It is as if voters twirl a cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want.
This filter effect, which is so prominent in politics, extends into every aspect of our life. We tend to look for information that already confirms what we already believe. We edit the world to fit our ideology. Imperative as focus is, we must make the distinction between a focused mind and a disregard for certain possibilities.
Historian Isaiah Berlin used animalistic mentalities to exemplify this very point. While a fox knows many diverse things, a hedgehog knows one big thing.
When attacked, a hedgehog rolls itself into a ball so that its spines point outward. A fox, on the other hand, does not rely on a single strategy. A fox adjusts its strategy to a particular situation. Accepting a situation as ambiguous, the fox relies on tailor-made approaches when conceptualizing possibilities.
The difference between the fox and the hedgehog is that the fox evades the seduction of certainty, while a hedgehog reassures itself with a foregone conclusion.
The fox’s abilities to think further than its preconceptions about a situation, make it a cunning and sly predator. Foxes live in the unknown, constantly adapting to and evaluating different possibilities.
We take comfort in certainty. Building blocks and cornerstones exist on this very premise. The weakness of certainty is when you know you are right, you stop listening to perspectives that say you may be wrong.
Cognition is a powerful human asset. Like any muscle of the body we need to practice to strengthen it. Foxes are notoriously cunning because they think about thinking. They study their own decision-making process and gather information from a wide variety of sources.
It seems that the acquisition of knowledge lies in the openness of perspective. We must be willing to entertain new thinking. As effective as that spike defense may be, we do not want to remain complacent in certainty, satisfied with status quo.
Like the fox, we must be willing to accept ambiguity and charter the unknown. That is where the true comprehension of knowledge spawns from, and the willingness to navigate ambivalence carries with it the potential for extraordinary possibilities.
March 19, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Awareness | No comment