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A Push Forward

We must constantly reevaluate what we do and not let habits and past wisdom blind us to new possibilities.

Apple just launched their newest operating system, OS X Lion, last week.  Like any new idea, people are excited about the change, but weary of its unfamiliarity.  Just like people who are fretful about the idea of switching from PC to Mac, the unknown holds an unsettling feeling for the potential of both positive and negative consequences.

But to ignore a source of innovation because of the possibility of misuse would be senseless.  In Mihaly Csikszentmihaly book on the psychology of optimal experiences, Flow, he writes, “If mankind had tried to ban fire because it could be used to burn things down, we would not have grown to be very different from the great apes.”

Embracing the unknown has been civilizations igniting force continually pushing it forward.  On a smaller scale, the very same ideology can be broken down on an individual level.  What is common and routine now, was at one time unfamiliar and unknown.

Using what was once a part of our tactics to crawl, lead us to stand on our two miniature legs for the very first time.  Entering a building full of classrooms, friends, and considerably taller, unfamiliar adults was our first experience of structured learning.

Growing up was full of firsts.  And although the idea of walking could lead to the very realistic possibility of falling, it wouldn’t stop of us from taking hold of our latest ability to explore new surroundings.

Entertaining new possibilities is a visceral drive.  We look back and view a child learning to walk or going to school as a natural part of growth.  It is because growth is an innate drive.  Breaking through to new areas of our life is a state of being and it does not end with childhood abilities.

We constantly drive to push ourselves forward.  But we also establish a frame of reference and a list of habits to go with it, and so breaking into new areas becomes risky.

Fresh life ideas contain learning curves, time, consequences, and chances of failure.  But does that mean we should ignore them?  And even if we do, growth is our state of being.  To ignore possibilities would create a dissonance as our beliefs and our actions would not align.

To act would evoke fear, while not acting would create dissatisfaction.  I find we are better fear facers then dissatisfaction creators.

If life is a an array of dots, the ones behind us connected, the ones in front of us an unpredictable sequence – then we must learn to trust that the dots will connect.  Our first day of school might have been our scariest challenge at one time, but now we see it as a connection to what has brought us to where we currently are.

The same can be said about the future. Although those dots may seem like leaps and bounds away right now, they will connect and make the intricate and extraordinary sequence of the life you have the potential of living.

Innovation – The Candle Puzzle

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.