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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Archive: Believing impossible things

Archive: Believing impossible things

September 22nd, 2010

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“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

— Alice in Wonderland.

The truth is, as Lewis Carol seemed to know, we often need to believe a great many impossible things every day of our life. Doctors once thought that disease was caused by “bad air” or lack of morality – astronomers thought the Earth was the center of the universe and scientists thought heavier objects fell faster than lighter ones. Knowledge is never static, but always in a state of becoming. Once you understand that, you can begin to explore what “impossible things” you need to be believing today.

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Question everything

If you really want to get your thought processes moving, questioning the “truths” of our time is a great way to start. Maybe viruses and spyware are a good thing. Perhaps managing spam email isn’t the best idea. Maybe faster isn’t better. The mind reels at the possibilities. The truth is, you never know what wrongheaded ideas you might be carrying around until someone points them out. Why not discover them yourself?

Start boosting your thinking today by questioning everything. Question whether the sky is blue or the Intel Core Duo chip is really what companies need. Question whether a GUI is really an improvement over a command-line interface. Question whether technology helps or hurts society. The more sacred the idea, the more profane your thoughts should be.

The goal of this exercise is to get you thinking beyond your average, everyday thoughts. Too often, we simply accept the “truths” of life without ever wondering if they really are true anymore. It can be mind-bending, but in an incredible useful way. Imagine how doctors felt when presented with the microbial theory of disease after hundreds of years controlling the bodily “humors.” What might have astronomers been thinking when a solar-centered universe solved all the problems of how the heaven’s moved? Remember, someone once thought that 64KB would be more than enough memory for any computer.

Maybe, maybe not

There are several ways of applying the concept of “impossible” things to your work and career. Do you often hear management or your co-workers explaining, “it has to be that way” or “we’ve always done it like that.” This is a clear sign that some deeper thinking needs to be done. Is there a form that everyone hates, but can’t seem to stop using? Why? Would the company fall apart? Dig deeper. Is this form still necessary or is it only an unconscious ritual from a long gone process?

Is your company expending tens of thousands of dollars on technology that really isn’t needed? Could entire servers be replaced by a simple, new procedure? Are you trying to automate your way out of a problem when human nature is really the culprit? You may laugh, but I can imagine that every one of you has faced just such a problem in your career. As high-tech workers we often believe in the ability of technology to solve any problem. We throw hardware and software at a problem when training, hiring and firing would be a better response. Perhaps we should be questioning this concept most of all.

If you want your career to flourish, you need to engage in a little impossible thinking. Too many ideas we carry with us today are out-dated, unconscious beliefs that may have served us well in the past, but now limit our thinking, our creativity and our productivity. Be like the Red Queen and start each morning by believing a few impossible things, or, at least, thinking about them. I am sure you will find that what you might think a fanciful exercise will become one of the most important aspects of your work. The greatest leaps in human history have come from those who dare to think the impossible and then find out they were true all along. What new horizons might you discover in your life and your career?

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