Where Do Original Ideas Come From?

Where do novel ideas come from? From deep study and reflection on the examples we already have or from wide and ranging discovery of paths not connected to the way we understand the present? Convergent or divergent?

I can get stuck in one or the other easily but have recognized that the most original and novel ideas come from doing both multiple times. In a world that is looking for predictability, because that is what we know and where we feel safe, the impetus is to land on one solution too quickly. The choice might seem logical and maybe even clever because it aligns with something we can relate to a previous experience. “A is like b and B worked when we did C’. Some decisions we make can survive and thrive in opting for predictability. If we are looking to get more of the same for the next year it works to use charts and tables and forecasts. If I want to lose 5 more pounds and it took burning 17500 more calories than I took in over 10 days to lose the last 5 pounds, I could predict a similar pattern for the next 10 day 5 pound plan.

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But, the world we are living in is changing; changing faster than we can imagine or believe is possible. Fortune 500 companies use to spend an average of 65 years at the top of their game, now the might make 7. The things I take for granted in communication; Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, Smartphones, didn’t exist 5 or 6 years ago. When I was in high school I took computer programming and needed to take my punch cards to the university to run on a computer that filled a large room. Now my cell phone has 100 times the power. In 5 years it will compute at the speed of the human brain and by 2050 it will have the power of all of humanity. Electric cars, hover boards, MOOCs, Pokemon GO … The world is changing fast. I can’t use prediction to forecast accurately what action I need to take today to be on track 2 months from now. Adaptability and flexibility will become the most important skills for the next generation or at least for the next while. The ability and comfort to thrive in ambiguity will be the difference between making a difference and being forgotten.

So I arrive at the conclusion that we need to do many things, most things, maybe everything differently. To get there we need to break out of the prison of bias and mediocrity. We need a plan to knock down the bars and make a great escape. This will take some diligence. Think like you are making a break from Alcatraz or Smokey Mountain Penitentiary. Nobody succeeded because they were all trying the same thing. How widely and wildly can you think about the problem? Can you imagine enough possibilities that you list a dozen crazy ideas? And then how do you decide on which ones make the first cut? second? Final?

Over the next couple of posts I am going to think about divergence and convergence then for a couple of posts work through convergence back to divergence and arrive at an original idea.

Make Today Remarkable, by thinking crazy thoughts,
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5 Ways to Intentionally Scare Yourself

Do something that scares you a little. Step into your reality and out of the humdrum by trying something for the first time. Push outside your comfort zone as far as you can and then in a week try something that is even farther away from the complacency and convenience of day-to-day. I am not suggesting that you do anything that is truly reckless, dangerous, illegal or immoral but try something that doesn’t leave your face pressed tightly against the current cozy box. Inside the box you feel safe, sufficient, and sane but life is meant to have tensions, tests, trials and treasures that don’t fit well inside a tight frame.

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Here are 5 things to try that shouldn’t shock you but might bring some trepidation.

1. Talk to a stranger – engage with someone on the bus, in a line, at an event, in a park. Someone that you don’t know, someone that you might not meet except in this moment, someone that you aren’t trying to impress. Start the conversation with an easy introduction – hand extended say ” Hi, My name is …” They will reflectively respond with their name. Ask ” What brings you to the … park, store, event?’ or any easy open ended geo-based query. Listen to their response and then ask a third question that their response piqued. The door is open and your challenge is complete – watch where the conversation goes and stay curious.

2. Eat something new – try something ‘unusual’ for the first time or something that you have a bias against because you didn’t like it as a child. You aren’t a child anymore and tastes change. I love Brussel Sprouts, especially in February, but detested them as boiled poop when I was in middle school. Your something new could be fruit, veggie, meat, exotic or simple. It could be prepared at home or purchased from a grocer, cafe, food truck or shared off a friend’s plate. If you expand your palette, you open a window to expand your mind.

3. Take a venturous journey – the world is your oyster so get out there and see her. This could be as simple as riding a bike, public transit, Uber, or walking. It could include flying to Ulan Bator or visiting a farmer’s market that you have ‘wanted’ to get to. You could travel with a group or take a solo sojourn to a mountain, a beach, a lake, a museum. If self propelling your journey (bike/food/blades/paddle) be sure to pause in places that seem interesting or places that seem unusually dull and take in the sights, sounds, smells.

4. Make something – choose to be creative and you are. Bake a cake from a new recipe. Write a poem or paint a picture. Memorize and recite a passage from a play or a quote from a good book. Build a sandcastle, stack rocks, plant a flower, learn to knit, play the ukelele and then as Seth Godin would say ” ship it to the world’ by showing it to someone else. Don’t let the conformity of reality TV like “The Voice” “Idol” assuage you. The road to creativity isn’t necessarily through mimicry, although it is an easier place to start. The real road begins in finding something that makes you smile when you hear it, see it or think about it. Don’t wait for a muse – just color a picture, draw a stick figure, share a ‘crazy’ idea and make it public.

5. Act as if – Take a moment and discover a frivolous indulgence for yourself. You have likely wanted to do something for a long time but have dismissed it as a ‘waste of time, money effort …’. You might want to learn to dance the tango, rock climb or parachute. You could aspire to speak in public, run for office or get a new job. Sailing, singing, sightseeing, flying, fishing, fasting, meeting someone special or making something important. If you take a moment and discover, without debating yourself, what is of interest in this moment it offers a list to begin drawing from. Don’t start with bucket list level stuff (do write those down) but begin with something, just for you, that is just outside your reach. Stretch to start it and then grasp it with both hands and make it the best, the most fun, and the most important activity that you take in that moment. Let yourself enjoy it without judgement or guilt.

The list of 5 isn’t comprehensive but suggestive. Your 5 will be from the sum of your experiences. The key is to begin now and when you check that box begin again.

Make Today Remarkable, by scaring yourself a little,
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A Path to Finding Peace

Being the best you can be requires that you listen to critics, hear what they are saying and don’t take it personally. Easy to say much harder to do. I have been accused of taking everything personally? Do you hear that refrain from family, friends, colleagues, strangers, or adversaries?

Assuming a neutral position in the face of negative (or positive) feedback requires significant commitment and ongoing practice. The chaos inside all our heads takes sides very quickly and either rushes to confirm the input or jump into a defensive posture. Ego is involved either that clouds the moment can evaporate. way. You are puffed up by praise (well deserved I am sure) or pounded down by criticism ( undeserved I am sure). But if you can breathe in the assessment without ownership, just recognition that is there then the drama can be held in abeyance. Holding the feedback lightly flushes the crap and opens a place for honest reflection. But again easy to say harder to do.
I am reading a book by Pedram Shojai “The Urban Monk” that is beginning to clear up some of the muck and helping me connect with the inner me that lives in the outside world. I love the idea that I don’t need to go into a hermitage or off to a mountain top to begin to find peace in all situations. I will keep you posted as I learn, struggle, and practice.
For today why don’t we both just continue to be aware of our breath and our stress and see if we can breathe into the gap.

Make Today Remarkable,

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5 Benefits of Choosing Sustainibility

What is the argument for a sustainable life? Are you learning to make your world and your choices more sustainable? Practicing sustainability has at least 5 personal and collective benefits.

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1. Save money – yes living a more viable life will save you money, potentially a lot of money. If you consider all of your purchases with a lens of supportability, you will likely make fewer purchases, wiser purchases and hold onto what you purchase longer. How many ‘anything’ do we really need?
If you decide to forgo a wee bit of convenience for a different and beneficial transportation alternative you can save $thousands. I have used Car2Go almost 400 times since 2012 at a total cost of less than $1500. The C2G choice allowed us to not purchase a second vehicle ($50 -$30,000), not insure a second vehicle ($7500 to $10,000) not maintain a second vehicle ($2000 to $3000), not pay to park a second vehicle (because of our lifestyle and work this is a big savings but might not be as much for others $10,000) not pay to fuel a second vehicle ($4000) and I don’t need to worry about tires, ammortization, depreciation and am not stressed about a car. Over 4 years I trade convenience ( there is some inconvenience and planning needed) for more than $60,000. Carshare stats indicate that for every shared vehicle on the road 8-11 aren’t need which reduces CO2 output, congestion, and improves health.

2. Improved health – my physical well being has been improved through the creation of higher order habits. By opting to buy more real food, more local food, more organic food I have improved the nutrition of my weekly diet and in turn my body mass has become healthier. With a better diet I am more able and interested in more physical activity which lead me to running ( now clocking about 1500k a year) for recreation and hiking, biking for leisure. Supporting local goods means less transportation and less chemicals needed to hold food like veggies in an unnatural state. I also get the placebo effect of feeling better because I feel better about myself.

3. More time – Even though I confessed that my C2G choice has reduced convenience, I have chosen to make healthier, saner uses of the time getting to shared transportation (public/private). I also plan my outings better and am much more efficient with the travel than the haphazard way I used a personal vehicle. Convenience breeds complacency and if I don’t need to think about my destination and my goals I can turn a single round trip into 5 or 6 excursions.
This has helped me think about how I use time generally and my limited consciousness that I am developing has helped me ask ” do I really need to do that/go there/buy that?” and when the answer is no I get minutes in my relationship, recreation bank to use in a healthier less stressful way.

4. More space – Recognizing that we have too much, too many material possessions that clutter our lives and space was a revelation. I can borrow books from the library and not spend money and space on new additions (this is a difficult one because as I am reading a borrowed book I am thinking about wanting it for future reference). We are fortunate to have a tool library near us and my membership allows me to not purchase and store tools and gadgets that I might only us once. This has lead to some purging, thus creating space, of books, clothes, gadgets, tools, technology that I don’t use or need. Some was donated, some shared, some sold. We live in a apartment condo (built on brownscape) and so the additional few square feet that was created is appreciated.

5. Independence, interdependence and self sufficiency – we haven’t reaped all the benefits in these categories yet but we are working on it. I get to celebrate every opportunity that I don’t need to surrender to the mediocrity of materialism ( I don’t beat myself up when I play into the game). I like the idea and practice of being in a shred relationship with people I know and people I will never meet. The understanding that we are in this together, even when we don’t acknowledge it is inspiring. Everything that we do to live more sustainably is like that rock which, when thrown into a pond, creates ripples that disperse in all directions.

Some self sufficiency goals are a ways off but every day that we make better choices, we get closer to a garden plot, a beehive, and a solar system.

Make Today Remarkable by becoming more sustainable,
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Surprises

When events occur that you didn’t anticipate, how do you react? Do you take it as an opportunity to celebrate a chance to learn something or do you mope that “this isn’t what I wanted”? I would love to say ” I always try to learn from the unexpected” but I don’t  Yesterday I move my website domain or really just pointed to a different DNS and was surprised (read pissed) that my email became inaccessible. I thought ” how was I supposed to know this would happen?” but it was totally my bad. As is common for big picture people, I didn’t read all of the fine detail and follow all the instructions completely. I did get to learn this morning when I needed to reach out to customer support from two different providers and try coordinate their joint effort to restore the account. If I had been more detail oriented I would have anticipated the issue and taken a different tact to accomplish the same thing. So even when I was annoyed yesterday by the ‘unexpected’ I did gain some knowledge about ISPs and domain transfers and some insight into myself.

I realized that I am perfectly okay with unexpected if it is outside the span of my control; a fallen tree across my path on a run, a rainbow when the sun is shining brightly, a smile from a stranger, a problem that needs solving. When I feel like I had/have/should have a measure of control, I feel frustration and defensive. How much control do I need to feel I can relinquish before the anxiety washes away? Probably way more than I am willing to acknowledge.

For the rest of the day I am going to (maybe you will join me) allow surprises to creep up on me and keep my hands and mind open do that my grip on the control lever is ever so light.

Make Today Remarkable, by relinquishing,
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Contradictions

Contradictions can be the spice of life. When I meet someone who believes something that I hold dear and acts in a way that resonates with me, I am surprised when we don’t agree about everything. If I hold one value that you hold, do you expect that we will be in sync on most things? As an environmentalists and feminist I am attracted to folks who display some of the same tendencies but have been shocked to then discover that they are anti-something that I also believe. I have, in the past let these contradictions, as I saw them, allow me to cast judgement. I have been quick to dismiss and quicker to challenge. But I have been slow to listen and even slower to let go of my self ascribed moral superiority.

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Begin a discussion with a stranger or acquaintance with a political question or comment (this subject has been floating around the past two weeks like the aroma from a fresh skunk carcass and will probably reek for the next six months). I have found general agreement on the candidates and the platforms (mostly negative and distrustful) but if we delve into the nest of specifics, things can get testy. Kicking that fire ant’s nest will result in some surprising bites but if you stay in the moment of the discussion, you can learn and teach a lot. The contradictions are as much perspective as opinion and learning something from where someone else is standing is challenging and expansive.
I so often come back to the idea that I need to be curious to understand not curious to gather information so I can win an argument. If I can wonder about something that I instinctively disagree with and ask questions for clarity and context maybe what was a contradiction can become a variance or a different path to the same destination.

Make Today Remarkable, by embracing a couple of contradictions,

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Striving for Simplicity

Simplicity isn’t a slow man’s solution to complex problems but a gateway to a deeper conversation.
Winston Churchill thought and wrote a lot about simplicity and complexity and in his tenure as a wartime Prime Minister he had to wrestle with complicated connected variable pieces that could save or cost lives and he needed to communicate the results of his battle with clarity and brevity.

“A vocabulary of truth and simplicity will be of service throughout your life.”
“Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge. Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.”
“All the great things are simple.”
“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”

If we frame a discussion, debate or generative conversation in a complex mind map overly with lines and shading connecting strength, direction and reciprocity we can overwhelm and disinvite participants. Academics and bureaucrats like complex expressions of though because it raises the status of their domain. But if we open a door with some simple thoughts and possible remedies, we create space for wider engagement and diverse input.

Readers will know that I suffer from some serious confirmation bias and pretty strong delusions of grandeur so masking uncertainty with a web of connected observations can be a tendency of mine. I realize that I can have more creative, ingenious and original interactions if I can begin without the pretense of convolution and elaboration.

Make Today remarkable, by beginning with simplicity,
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I’ve Seen Sunshine and I’ve Seen Rain

Summer sunshine and summer storms each bring a freshness to the landscape and a sense of awe to my heart. After days of clouds and rain, we had an amazing thunderstorm last night that left a sheen on everything that is green as the sun rose this morning. There is humidity that we aren’t used feeling here and as the sun reaches its zenith there is a mugginess bit after just a few days of grey, we are all appreciating the light. Being grateful and expressing gratitude for this small pleasure is heartfelt and heartfilling. I try to be agnostic about the weather but I confess that I feel so much better when the sky is clear and the light casts deep shadows through the trees. There is a peace that sinks in and I can feel it resonating in my head and heart. Thank you for the sunshine that I get to bask in this afternoon.

I try to run, bike or walk regardless of the weather and I have been out during the past wet spell doing all three (I did retreat to a treadmill one time in the past week). But today, I get to ride along the river to my appointments and feel a breeze on my right cheek and sunshine on my left (at least when I am heading east). I am grateful that I have access to such beauty and am able to get out and enjoy it in so many different seasons.

I was able to add a walk in the park this morning, holding hands with my beloved, not so much exercise as reflection and exploration. A second crop of ducklings seem to have hatched (i didn’t know they could have two batches) and the fledglings from the starling, blackbird and flicker nests are winging and feeding and singing their little hearts out. There was evidence of a couple of deer bedding down in the park but this is the first year that we haven’t spotted them feeding and enjoying the sanctuary of the urban park. Maybe they have moved down river to a less populated area. I am thankful that when I meander with my eyes open that I am rewarded with sights and sounds that are unexpected and inspiring. Having an oasis on our doorstep is a blessing that we get to share with grandkids – another thing to be thankful for.

Just thinking about what I am grateful for and acknowledging it here makes me feel better, breathe easier and studies suggest live longer.

Be gregariously grateful today,
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From Where I Stand

My view of the world, my country, my ideas is based on when and where I have planted my feet and likely how I got to that line in the sand. We all adopt perspectives and for most of the time that is a safe, sane and effective practice. We are comforted by knowing what to expect because we construct tomorrow by how we view today. We can breathe in the chaos of life when we can anchor to a place or position. And we get stuff done when we don’t veer too far left or right. Safe, sane and efficient but also prone to mediocre, missed opportunities and single-mindedness.

When I stand at the crossroads of fiscal responsibility and social justice, I see an inequity of opportunity and reduced choices when I look from the point of view of the most vulnerable. Their options are limited and moving from one crisis to another, doesn’t  offer any margin for planning for improvements. When faced with the choice of feeding the kids or paying the utilities, you don’t have the luxury of striving or thriving.
If I take the extreme fiscal conservative place, I see irresponsible waste and poor planning. I feel like I am working harder and getting nowhere fast. My taxes are going to support octal programs that I will never use and it makes me angry to think that someone else is living off the sweat of my brow.

If I manage to reflect as the god Janis would, seeing both directions simultaneously then I see a version of “from each according to his means to each according to their needs.”
But we are only reduced to three choices by our own design. What would the circumstances look like if viewed from above? Would it seem like a living organism with each role filling a different and necessary responsibility? What if we could see the scene from a place that understood the future or the past, would the way we see the present be different? More generous? Angrier? Caring? Content?

As an example, this one might miss the mark but the point to make is that what we see as fact/truth/known/obvious/the only way/ has more to do with where we plant ourselves or maybe in the fact that we are planted than in the moment/circumstances/situation/challenge.
We might see unimagined solutions if we took off our shoes and ran in the sand rather than defending a position. When I go on the defensive, my ability to create/Innovate/change is reduced exponentially. If I don’t draw the line or I rub. It out with my foot I become imaginative/open/motivated.

What do you see from where you are standing and what would you see if you crouched down or jumped up?

Make Today Remarkable by stepping into a different field,
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If You’re Happy and You Know It (even if you aren’t and don’t)

Can people around you make you happy? Turns out that we are masters of our own domain and many of our emotions are within the span of our control but, the big but is that if we are surrounded by negativity, it begins to pervade our tendencies. If we hang out with negative people we begin to have negative feelings regardless of how we structure our mindfulness. Even, if we read negative status posts on social media, we get nudged towards negative thoughts about our own lives. A large Facebook study determined that the degree of happiness and contentment we feel is significantly impacted by who we follow and whose posts we spend time reading.

If we can be influenced by fleeting glimpses from Facebook, imagine the impact that we can have on those who we are closest to; our partner, children, friends and coworkers or they can have on us. Are you being dragged down by constantly surrounding yourself with unhappy people? Are you choosing to be unhappy in this moment, today, this week? Would you prefer to feel joy rather than despair? This is where the power over your own decisions comes back into play. You get to decide how you act (If you consciously choose to) and how you feel. When you finishing reading this post, spend 10 minutes exuding happiness, being exceptionally social and expressing gratitude.

Start with 10 minutes and build to an hour, then 2,3,4. You will be amazed at how quickly a dramatically your experience and that of those around you will improve. Once the momentum shifts to happiness, the impact goes viral and becomes infectious to a much larger audience. It takes commitment and persistent incremental change to keep the ball rolling but my/your 10 minutes can grow into a neighborhood celebration.

The world is large and we aren’t but we can make a big difference if we commit and change how we act.

Make Today Remarkable, by choosing 10 minutes of happiness, being social and expressing gratitude.

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