On Second Thought….
student was in physics class taking a test. The final question on the test was, “Given a barometer, how would you measure the height of this building?” Now, the go-to answer for this is to go to the first floor, note the pressure, go to the roof, note the pressure, and run it through an equation.
However, this particular student took a different approach. His answer: “I’d go ask the building manager.”
The student aced the quiz, except for that final question. He went up to the teacher and asked why it was marked incorrectly. Rather than reply, the teacher decided to give him another chance at the question.
The student’s response this time around: “I’d trade the barometer for rope, drop rope off the roof, and measure the distance.”
Once again, the teacher marked his answer incorrect. This time when the student approached the teacher, the teacher stated: “You have a barometer for a reason, use the barometer!” The student replied, “Fine. I’d drop the barometer off the roof, count the time it took to hit the ground, then use Newton’s Law of Falling Bodies to determine the distance.”
Despite annoying the teacher, that student ended up becoming one of the greatest inventors of all time, Nikola Tesla. He is credited for inventing alternating current (AC) electricity and one of his patents led to the invention of the radio.
In your own life, you are often faced with the challenge of figuring something out. Sure, there are the obvious answers, but often the most elegant and compelling solutions are the least instinctive. Divergent thinking – approaching problems from a radically non-traditional perspective – has led to many of civilization’s most important breakthroughs.
The next time you are charged with solving a problem, take a minute to explore unusual approaches before diving in. Could you solve it backwards? What is the exact opposite of conventional wisdom? How would someone from 400 BC try to solve it? What about someone from 500 years in the future?
We often attack challenges with the same-old, same-old methods and then wonder why we get mediocre results. If you want to reach that illuminated state of never-been-done-before, it’s time to break free from traditional tactics.
Oppositional thinking led Nikola Tesla to become one of the most celebrated inventors in history. Where will it lead you?
(Special thanks to Ryan Folsom from the QuickenLoans Unix Team for sharing this fantastic story on Tesla.)
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MYTH: Achievement occurs through some gigantic epiphany or an all-at-once breakthrough.
FACT: Most things worth accomplishing involve a persistent stream of small advances that, over time, lead to something transformational.
Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside. It is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” His vision was brought to life by chipping away until his art materialized.
Many of us get discouraged when we can’t reach our goals at Internet speed. We get frustrated with the slightest pothole or delay and are all so quick to stop trying. Criticism, self-doubt, and blame envelop us like a rock star among groupies and it’s all too easy to throw in the towel. The funny thing is, when you study the most successful people, they are not necessarily more talented or gifted. The most common traits among the best-of-the-best are ruthless determination and unwavering persistence.
Creative breakthroughs follow this same pattern yet are often completely misunderstood. Sure, there are moments of creative insight (the apple falling on Newton’s head giving him the idea for gravity), but the research shows that most creative breakthroughs actually come by chipping away at a problem.
The creative act isn’t some magical inspiration that arrives in the form of a lightning bolt. Rather, it is frequently a series of experiments and techniques practiced over time with drumbeat-like consistency that allows inventors, artists, and musicians to crack the code. Even the light bulb – the very symbol of fresh ideas – was the result of over 1,000 attempts.
Want to get in great shape? Starving yourself for three days while working out like a juiced-up bodybuilder won’t do the trick. Chipping away at this goal, day in and day out, over a prolonged period will get you to the promise land. Want to get a big promotion, launch a startup, become a world-class researcher, rebuild your community, create the ideal romantic relationship or achieve financial independence? Quick bursts of energy are nice, but a consistent and methodical attack will likely yield the best results over time. It may be less glamorous, but it is far more productive.
If you have a setback or an unproductive day or two, let it go instead of dwelling over it. In these spots where most people become derailed, you can simply get back on the steady plan of chipping away. Your life’s work will mirror your consistency, grit, and determination far more than some flash insight, quick sprint of hard work, or this-changes-everything moment.
You have the power to seize just about anything you want. Start chipping away.
What’s Your Calling?
As the waiter told us about the specials this past Saturday night, he didn’t simply drone on with emotionless facts. Instead, with the animation and passion of an opera singer, he told us about the Kobe beef “experience” and the incredible “intensity” of their dry aged steaks. This guy was doing much more than his job. Perhaps he was connecting his work to a deeper meaning.
Author Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis, talks about the differences between a job, a career, and a calling:
- If you see your work as a job, you do it only for the money. You look at the clock frequently while dreaming about the weekend ahead, and you probably pursue hobbies, which satisfy you more thoroughly than does your work.
- If you see your work as a career, you have larger goals of advancement, promotion, and prestige.
- If you see your work as a calling, however, you find your work intrinsically fulfilling; you are not doing it to achieve something else. You see your work as contributing to the greater good or as playing a role in some larger enterprise. You have frequent experiences of flow during the work day, and you neither look forward to “quitting time” nor feel the desire to shout, “Thank God it’s Friday!” You would continue to work, perhaps even without pay, if you suddenly became very wealthy.
Maybe my enthusiastic waiter plans to own a chain of restaurants someday and he is working his way toward that vision. Perhaps he views his role as delighting others and bringing people together with the highest quality food and service. You don’t have to be saving lives or writing the next Great American Novel to find deep meaning in your work.
I have the privilege to pursue my own calling by backing passionate entrepreneurs in an effort to rebuild the city of Detroit. I also spread ideas on creativity and innovation throughout the world. This is my calling and I do these things to contribute, not just to receive. With a background as a jazz guitarist instead of a Harvard MBA, I could have easily talked myself out of this pursuit and landed in some soulless job. But when you sprint toward your authentic calling with reckless abandon, obstacles melt away and your vision comes to life.
If you are sick-and-tired of being sick-and-tired, step back and examine what you are most passionate about. It may not happen overnight, but setting yourself on a path toward your calling will liberate you. Your income will likely increase, but that will become a byproduct rather than a focal point.
Whether you are a waiter, student, executive, or playwright, now is the time to launch yourself on a trajectory aimed squarely at your best and highest purpose. While the path less travelled may feel risky, it will surely beat the regret you’ll feel for not trying in the first place.
TEDxSPSU goes zero waste
SPSU (Sir Padampat Singhania University) is a five-year-old engineering school located in Udaipur, India. Capitalizing on the engineering-inclined student body, the TEDxSPSU organizers invited students to create the entire 10,000 square foot space for the event.
The only rule for making the space theirs? Everything had to be created with waste. They asked the university for access to any scrap lying around, and got their hands on bamboo, old tires and coconut ropes. The administration allowed them late night access to the mechanical workshop.
From the tires and bamboo, students created chairs. From oil canisters, came tables—wrapped in newspaper and topped with scavenged glass.
For the cups and plates, students crafted traditional kulhars—dishes made from mud, while bowls were made out of bound leaves.
Now, I’m always proud of my home state, don’t get me wrong. But, this week’s exhilarating, whirlwind gathering got me fired up about certain things that make me puff up my chest just a bit more than usual. Granted, Michigan’s infamous economic tornado is one for the record books, but historians and journalists alike need to re-sharpen their pencils and take some notes. The Great Lakes State is making a Rocky Balboa-esque recovery, and the world should pay very close attention to the secrets of a state in the midst of a miraculous turnaround.