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How to stop “can’t” thinking

How to stop “can’t” thinking

leaps of imagination



How do you define imagination? To me, it’s the first step in bridging the problems we face and their solutions.

Imagine working on an app that would help users get out of debt because they’re making better informed financial decisions.

Imagine using technology that allows patients and their doctors to better manage their health.

Imagine creating a better umbrella all because you were stuck in the rain with a crappy one.

Problems are often the spark for developing innovative and creative solutions that improve the quality of life for everyone.

There’s a problem, however, that can hobble problem-solving. What it is? The “I can’t” mindset, which we all suffer to a greater or lesser extent. “I can’t” is often the hurdle that separates problem recognition and imagination. However, if we can get past “I can’t,” we enable wonder, curiosity, creativity and, sometimes, groundbreaking innovation.

4 ways to let go of “I can’t” thinking


The “I can’t” mindset is a hurdle we all can cross if we’re willing. Here’s four ways to shift your thinking.

  • Believe you can and then ask “why”.

If you believe you’re creative, that’s good because you’re going to need that creativity in learning to trust yourself. If that’s too big a leap, then start with trusting in a process that begins with “Why?”

If you’re stuck in the “I can’t” mindset, attack it with “Why?” Ask yourself, why do I feel stuck? Beginning with “why” can aid you in discovering the root cause of an issue. Why liberates your mindset because you put the factor that’s causing the self-doubt into perspective, which enables you to move on.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. ~Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher


  • Shift the way you see “The Problem.”

We usually perceive problems to be bigger than they really are, a reality that causes intimidation and avoidance. Learn to be sensitive to feeling intimidation, and train yourself to see problems as an invitation or challenge. Train yourself to keep asking questions. See problems as an opportunity to change your mind about what you think is possible.

Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced. ~James Baldwin, novelist and social critic


  • Ask “What if?”

There is a technique to asking “What if” properly.

Creativity is like a muscle that needs a workout routine. Start your workout with a silent warm-up ideation round of three minutes in which you write down as many “What if?” or open-ended questions as you can.

Now follow with by a round of team sharing in which each person takes a turn sharing their “what if” questions. Participants come up with ideas and solutions to the “what if” questions they hear and write them down. Repeat three times.

I advocate for written ideas so louder and more vocal people don’t have an advantage. A necessary ground rule for the sharing process is positivity. Show support for good ideas. Keep the vibe open and friendly with positive, affirming language.

Imagination is more important that knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. ~Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist


  • Manage the creative momentum.

While collective brainstorming and discussion can be fun while producing group bonding, there’s a more important takeaway, and that’s helping participants get out of their own way. They learn to grab and then distill the best ideas that are out there. Having too many ideas can be its own problem, so it’s important to determine the best ones.

The power of imagination created the illusion that my vision went much farther than the naked eye could actually see. ~Nelson Mandela, political leader and philanthropist

Embrace the power of imagination


By now, “I can’t” looks pretty ridiculous and unnecessary as an approach to problem-solving, doesn’t it?

Learning to not let an “I can’t” mentality stump you yields not only creative solutions for a single problem, but it also provides a general principle about using your imagination with which to address all problems … or, rather, opportunities.


Today’s guest contributor is Mona Patel, CEO and Founder of Motivate Design, a user-centered design agency based in New York City. In addition to helping clients and other Fortune 500 companies feel unstuck, Mona is also a teacher at Parsons School of Design.


Image credit before quote added: Pixabay





10 ways to be more curious

10 ways to be more curious

10 ways to be curious

It’s a department staff meeting. You lead the department, and you are being peppered with questions. How do you react?

Do you answer every single question yourself, or do you deflect some of them to those on your team who are subject matter experts on the topic in question?

If you feel compelled to answer every question, that’s being trapped in “vending machine leadership,” i.e., someone asks you a question (inserting the coins) and out pops the correct answer (like the candy bar or bag of chips).

Sometimes, we get trapped in vending machine leadership by a company culture that rewards us for being the “answer person.” Other times, our ego does us in. Every once in a while, it’s a mash-up of both, fed by a lack of curiosity.

It seems that organizations are claiming to value curiosity, but still discouraging its expression. They promote innovation yet punish failure. They cling to legacy structures and systems that emphasize authority over inquiry and routine over resourcefulness. ~Todd B. Kashdan, scientist and professor, George Mason University

If you wonder how curious you are, pause for a moment and reflect on your answers to these questions:

  • Do I feel uncomfortable when there’s ambiguity?
  • Do I make statements rather than ask questions to save time and keep things on track?
  • Do I reward consistency and conformity because they are the expected norms of behavior?
  • Do I label those who ask too many questions as disruptive and difficult?
  • Do I look for facts that support my position and ignore those that challenge my position?
  • Do I want answers given to me fast, clear, and unequivocal?
  • Do I tell the boss what he wants to hear?

An absence of curiosity at work

A “state of curiosity” survey conducted by Harris Poll shows curiosity is absent from most of the leadership landscape:

  • 39 percent of workers report that their employers are either extremely encouraging or very encouraging of curiosity
  • Only 22 percent describe themselves as curious at work
  • Two-thirds report facing barriers to asking more questions
  • 60% say their workplace throws up barriers to integrating curiosity into their work
  • 10% strongly agree that their leader preferred new and unfamiliar ideas

Answers are more valued than inquisitive thought, and curiosity is trained out of us. ~Hal Gregersen, Executive Director, MIT Leadership Center

How being curious makes you a better leader


Curiosity—that’s desiring knowledge beyond what you know—is an important leadership skill. A deficit of curiosity and a surplus of conformity make it challenging to lead in today’s complicated world. It contributes to bias and lack of diversity, too.

Curiosity delivers multiple personal and professional benefits that include improved performance, mental retention, and happiness. Being curious also improves social interactions and interpersonal relationships because it allows for “comfort with uncertainty, unconventional thinking, and a tendency to avoid judging, criticizing, or blaming other people.”

Curiosity is what separates us from the cabbages. It’s accelerative. The more we know, the more we want to know. ~David McCullough, author and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner

10 ways to be a more curious leader

Provided you have self-awareness, curiosity—filling the gap between what you know and want to learn—is a skill that can be developed.

To be a curious leader, you need to:

  1. Stop making statements that shut down creativity and start asking more questions that begin with “why” and “how.”
  2. Probe for hidden or missed insights in the conflict, incongruity, contradictions, and uncertainty the bubble up at work.
  3. Reframe your definition of failure to allow room to experiment, explore, and learn.
  4. Be mindful of being too quick to judge or criticize a person, thought, idea, etc.
  5. Stop insisting on certainty and accept a measure of uncertainty and ambiguity.
  6. Give yourself permission to play, have fun, and break the rules.
  7. Listen more closely; ask clarifying questions. See what’s churning beneath the surface.
  8. Watch the labels you use to categorize people and situations; they can be barriers to learning and inquisitiveness.
  9. Probe for unfamiliarity within the familiar; look for what’s different and/or what’s limiting in what’s familiar.
  10. Don’t get too comfortable with what you know; seek out facts that challenge what you believe to be true.

What will you start doing to be more curious?


Image credit before quote added: Pixabay




Ready for a mind meld?

Ready for a mind meld?

Mind meld brain communication

Telepathy. ESP. Mentalism.

Whatever you call it, the ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, or experiences without using our known sensory channels is a timeless superpower that’s served countless science fiction tales, sparked endless debates between paranormal researchers and skeptics, and injected wonder into centuries of magic. But as Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

In the not-so-distant future, advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, and computer science will make it possible to link our brains together in synthetic telepathy. Along the way, we’ll be faced with profoundly difficult ethical questions and hopefully develop new empathic tendencies. And ultimately, we’ll learn through experience that the most powerful computers on the network are the ones inside our heads.

Mind meld brain science break throughs

The following are some of the most mind-blowing recent breakthroughs in the realm of brain-to-brain interfaces.

2012 Hearing the Voices in Someone Else’s Head

UC Berkeley researchers were able to identify the words that volunteers heard just by monitoring and decoding the activity in the volunteers’ temporal lobe, the region of the brain that processes auditory information. (The individuals had been implanted with electrodes as part of a multi-step surgical procedure to treat epilepsy and had volunteered to be part of this unrelated study.)

According to neuroscientist Brian N. Pasley, when people imagine that they are speaking a word, the same parts of the brain are activated as when they actually say the word out loud. “If you can understand the relationship well enough between the brain recordings and sound, you could either synthesize the actual sound a person is thinking, or just write out the words with a type of interface device,” he says.

2013 Interspecies ESP

In a pioneering demonstration of an interspecies brain-to-brain interface, Harvard radiology professor Seung-Schik Yoo and his colleagues enabled a human to transmit a mental signal directly to a sleeping rat’s motor cortex, triggering the rodent to move its tail. Their major breakthrough was devising an interface that was entirely noninvasive—no holes in the human or rat’s head necessary.

The person wore a hat outfitted with EEG electrodes that detect neural activity through the scalp, while the rat was positioned under a focused ultrasound machine that delivers a beam of acoustic energy to a specific region of the brain. Whenever the human looked at a flickering light on a computer display, it generated a specific brainwave pattern that triggered the ultrasound beam, spurring the rodent to unconsciously move its tail.

Someday, the researchers wrote in their scientific paper, a bidirectional system based on their technique could make it possible for “neural information [to] be transmitted between individuals separated by a great distance using the Internet protocol.”

2013 Head Games

In 2013, University of Washington researchers demonstrated the first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface and also the likely future of videogaming. Computational neuroscientist Rajesh Rao wore an EEG cap while watching a Space Invaders game play out on a computer screen. Across campus, Rao’s colleague Andrea Stocco had his finger near a button that would fire the laser cannon in the game, although he couldn’t actually see the game itself. Stocco was under a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) coil, a machine that delivers pulses to stimulate specific regions of the brain. When the moment came for Rao to fire his laser cannon, he imagined the act but didn’t actually move a muscle.

That brain activity stimulated the TMS coil near Stocco’s head, triggering him to involuntarily click the button to fire the cannon. “We plugged a brain into the most complex computer anyone has ever studied, and that is another brain,” said Chantel Prat, a psychology professor on the research team.

2014 Mental Morse Code

Hola. Ciao. Those were the two words sent directly from a person’s brain in India to three people’s minds in France via a system devised by Starlab Barcelona. The sender of the message, wearing an EEG helmet, imagined moving his hands or feet, a visualization translated into a zero or one. The series of zeros and ones was transmitted to the remote locations where the recipients were positioned under TMS coils, which delivered pulses to specific regions of the brain.

In this case, the pulses from the TMS devices triggered the receiver to see ashes of lights, representing the signals sent from India. In Starlab Barcelona’s scientific paper the researchers described this kind of computermediated brain-to-brain communication as “hyperinteraction.” “We envision that hyperinteraction technologies will eventually have a profound impact on the social structure of our civilization and raise important ethical issues,” they wrote.

2015 A Computer of Interconnected Brains

After decades of pioneering work on mind-controlled prosthetic limbs, Duke University neuroengineer Miguel Nicolelis and his team are now developing “networks formed by multiple animal brains, cooperating and exchanging information in real time through direct brain-to-brain interfaces.” They call them “brainets.”

In one experiment, Nicolelis’s lab implanted electrodes in multiple rats and wired them together. The rats learned to coordinate their brains and share simple information between them. Next, the researchers moved on to monkeys, again linking pairs and even trios of the animals’ brains together via computer. The monkeys learned to collaboratively control a computer representation of a robot arm with only their thoughts. “Essentially, we created a super-brain,” Nicolelis said.

Today’s guest contributor is David Pescovitz, a research director at Institute for the Future, is co-editor/partner at the influential tech/culture website Boing Boing and the co-founder of Ozma Records. This post originally appeared on Institute for the Future blog.


Image credit (before quote added):  Pixabay




5 ways to get those creative juices flowing

5 ways to get those creative juices flowing

fear and being creativeCreativity is surrounded by paradigms. 

1500 CEOs who participated in an IBM study noted creativity as the single most important leadership quality for success yet, according to research by Adobe, 80% of respondents reported more pressure to be productive rather than to be creative at work. Go figure.

Ask people if they would describe themselves as creative, and the likely response is something along with lines of “Well, I’m not [an artist, a musician, a writer, a composer, etc.], so no, I’m not creative.” (more…)

3 ways to tame the noisy thoughts in your head

3 ways to tame the noisy thoughts in your head

a waterfall of thoughtsI love wisteria. Seeing those trailing explosions of frothy purple blossoms always makes me smile.

So why had I just driven for 15 minutes on a road where they grow wild and lush on the oaks and pines and not seen a single one?

I’d been “in my head,” all thoughts and attention focused on the writing conference I was about to attend along with a smattering of other things:   (more…)

4 ways to come up with brilliant ideas

4 ways to come up with brilliant ideas

brilliant ideasHere’s an intriguing idea: “Creativity is a muscle; use it or lose it.”

I define creativity as ‘the ability to develop great ideas while under pressure.” 

Pressure creates diamonds, so why shouldn’t it also create great ideas? But sometimes, pressure paralyzes creativity.  

I’ve experienced it when writing under deadline pressure and writing under the pressure of my own high expectations. Over time, I’ve developed several tricks to stimulate my creative muscle and help me come up with great ideas for whatever challenge I face – whether it’s writing or figuring out how to arrange a busy family weekend schedule so that everyone’s needs are met. (more…)