As I’ve been teaching people how to engage in Possibilities Thinking™ (the Steve Jobs mindset that sees possibilities where others see limitations), I had an insight I’d like to share with you. Most of our goals can be reached by doing what we’ve already been doing … plus a little bit more, a little bit better and a little bit faster. Some goals, however, seem impossible; nothing we’ve ever done in the past is likely to be sufficient to reach them.
We seem to live in
a linear world
Until recently most change in the world was linear. With relatively few exceptions, change happened gradually and smoothly over time and you could watch and predict with some degree of accuracy how those changes would result in the improvement (or deterioration) of some area of life.
So we employed linear thinking, which consists of logically moving step by step, to deal with what appeared to be a linear universe. We would make small logical changes to what already existed. For example, once we had a computer, writing programs enabled us to do things we could do before (like write articles and books), but a lot faster.
If most of what exists in the world around you is linear change, if that is the predominant mode of change, if linear thinking is all you were taught to do in school, if linear thinking is sufficient to succeed in a world where most change is linear—then you will form a mindset that consists of figuring out how to make minor improvements to what already exists. The mindset for this type of thinking is: This is the way the world is and the best we can do is improve slightly on what already exists.
I wrote a few weeks ago how this mindset leads us to predict next year’s income by adding a slight change in either direction from last year’s income.
Some rare people, however, see possibilities and opportunities where most of us see limitations. I call this type of thinking Possibilities Thinking™, or operating with an Unstoppable Mindset™. Anyone who has ever created a breakthrough in any area of life has thought like this. The people who create new industries—such as Ford, Vanderbilt, and Carnegie—think like this. The people who are creating tech startups think like this. The people who found a way to do heart transplants think like this. Some current role models for this type of thinking include Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Larry Page of Google, Richard Branson of Virgin, and the late Steve Jobs of Apple.
These people recognize what most of us do not. They know that most limitations do not exist in the world; they exist only in our minds. So, for them, virtually anything is possible. They challenge the limitations that most people accept as “the way things are.” These people create “discontinuous change,” in other words, change that is not an extension of the past, but instead change that creates a new trend line that is not attached to an old one. Computers, the Internet, the train, the automobile, etc. are not an extension of the past; each starts a new discontinuous trend line.
People with this mindset predict next year’s income by creating an audacious goal that is not a function of the past and then figuring out what they need to do to reach that goal. The audacious goal requires them to discard all activities that will only result in an incremental improvement—a little bit better, a little bit faster, and little bit more—because it’s clear than this type of improvement cannot possible lead to reaching the audacious goal. In order to achieve audacious goals, you usually will require discontinuous growth. And that usually can only be achieved by Possibilities Thinking™, which then leads to doing something that most people think is impossible.
People who employ Possibilities Thinking™ don’t always succeed in reaching their goals, but even when they fall short they often achieve much more than people who merely strive to make incremental improvements over the past.
Discontinuous change is now the norm
Until recently changes that resulted from unimagined possibilities were few and far between. The printing press was one such example, as were the heavier than air flying machine, the steam engine, heart transplants, and the automobile. In the past few decades, however, the number of these changes that will totally revolutionize the way we live and work has increased dramatically.
Almost every week we hear of some innovation that is creating a totally new way for us to do something we used to do or to do something we previously couldn’t do all. Examples include the smartphone, smart appliances that we can turn on and off miles away from our smartphones and tell us when maintenance is required, Uber, Airbnb, and the Internet itself, which pretty much makes all the information in the world available to anyone with a $100 device and Internet access.
Because there is so much discontinuous change in the world, the environment in which we operate changes massively in a short period of time. (While I was in my car yesterday I noticed all the paper maps I used as recently as four years ago. Now that GPS is ubiquitous, how often do you ever read a paper map?) In order to deal effectively with a “discontinuous world,” we are going to have to engage in Possibilities Thinking™ on a regular basis.
So how do you develop what I call
the “Unstoppable Mindset™”?
There are several things you can do, but one of the best ways to develop an Unstoppable Mindset™ is practicing what I’ve just explained: create and pursue audacious goals all the time. Get in the habit of committing to do things you don’t know how to do. That way you prevent yourself from falling back on using incremental improvements to reach your goal.
If nothing you’ve ever done before will be sufficient to reach an audacious goal, then you will be forced to discover and discard the assumptions you’ve made that aren’t the truth—things everyone knows to be true but that really aren’t—so that you can discover unimagined new possibilities and opportunities for reaching your goal.
We’re in the process of creating a virtuous circle: The more discontinuous change we see around us, the more we are likely to start using Possibilities Thinking™ to achieve our goals, the more discontinuous change we will create.
It won’t be long before more and more people are creating audacious goals for themselves and using Possibilities Thinking™ to produce discontinuous change. It’s already starting to happen. We’re now having hundreds (if not thousands) of innovations a year that are coming from Possibilities Thinking™ and producing discontinuous change.
You have a choice: Either you can continue to use linear thinking in a discontinuous world, which is becoming a less and less effective mindset for achieving your goals, or you can employ Possibilities Thinking™, which enables you to achieve audacious goals by creating innovative solutions to reach those goals.
If you choose the latter, it won’t be long before creating and reaching audacious goals is as natural as creating and reaching goals that are only slightly changed from what you’ve already achieved.
Just imagine a life where your audacious, seemingly impossible goals are being achieved as easily as you achieve incremental goals today.
Thanks for reading my blog. Virtually anyone can learn to use “Possibilities Thinking™” and develop an “Unstoppable Mindset™.” It just takes a lot of practice, like developing a muscle takes regular repetitions. Please share your thoughts about this radical notion with other readers below. Disagreement is as welcome as agreement. Your comments add value for thousands of readers. I love to read them all and I will respond to as many as I can.
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