Possibilities are all around you.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Alice encounters the White Queen. The Queen begins to explain how you can’t do two things at once, but the conversation takes  a different turn.

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 your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…”

Possibilities do exist

When I can’t see how a situation can improve, this simple exchange between Alice and the Queen reminds me that possibilities do exist.

As I work with teams and they share challenges and insurmountable obstacles, I sense hopelessness.Unknowingly, they become helpless. Like Alice, they see no possible way to change the situation or even a simple process.

Have you ever felt this? I’ve been there myself — many times.

Making a difference, changing what is to what can be, depends on our willingness to believe in “as many as six impossible things before breakfast…” or lunch or in the middle of a meeting.

Inspiration for possibilities

I am always looking for what is possible. How have others tackled a difficult problem or found a better way to improve their lives, school, plant, or office? 

We can always do better. Two books inspired me to believe in the possibilities of excellence in myself and workplaces.

Ed Catmull (co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios) showed me in Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration what is possible when we have deep conversations value the creativity in each person and our collective work.

As Ed explains . . .

“This book . . . is about the ongoing work of paying attention–of leading by being self-ware, as managers and as companies. It is an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.” (p. xvi)

The examples, the tools, the story of the people who create provides steps, possibilities of what can be in our organizations. I realize a school or a manufacturing plant is not the same as a creative studio. But these strategies apply to many situations and contexts.

How do we allow creativity, inspiration, or our voice to open the door to possibilities? Here are four ideas from Pixar worth considering.

  1. Dailies or Solving Problems Together
    Ongoing dialogue, feedback, and collective problem-solving engages the entire team to support projects. Even when I am the lead on the project, our entire team contributes to my success by candidly providing feedback, insights, or a perspective that I may have missed. The output creates a more innovative, creative, or practical product or solution.
  2. Research Trips
    For the film, Ratatouille, the team went to France and ate in the best restaurants, talked to the chef’s, and observed what happens in the kitchen. Their research added a level of authenticity to the storyline that the team might otherwise have missed. You can’t always find the solution in the conference room. How many times have you sat in meetings solving problems for people and situations that you do not fully understand? Get up and go to the source. See the challenge first-hand.
  3. Integrating Technology and Art
    In a creative environment like animated film, Pixar maintained the balance between technology and art. One does not necessarily drive the other. You need both. Sometimes technology advancement allows the artist to achieve effects not previously possible. But, using technology only because it exists may not produce the best art. In our daily lives and in the workplace, we forget that balance. We chase after the newest shiny thing only to find out that the new app or software doesn’t make it faster, better, or solve the problem.
  4. Postmortems
    When you finish a project, do you step back to ask a few questions? What worked? What didn’t work? Why? How could we do this better? What obstacles did we face, and how did our actions facilitate solutions or create bigger problems? Without an ongoing tool for self-assessment, we miss opportunities to learn and ultimately continuously improve.

The second book is one by Greg McKeown (@GregoryMcKeown), Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I was drawn to this book because, like many of us, prioritizing what to do next presents a daily challenge. What is most important to do today?

We spend so much time on things that matter least and bemoan that there isn’t time to do the right things. Greg’s research and wisdom taught me…

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done, it’s about how to get the right things done…It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.” (p. 5)

McKeown describes three assumptions we hold onto that hinder getting to the essential.

  1. I have to…
    I have to find three new clients every week.
    I have to be an expert on the topic or I won’t be credible.
    I have to write 1500 words before I can publish.
  2. It’s all important.
    I want to write every day. I want to volunteer for a community board. I want to start a podcast. And vlogging sounds like a great idea.
  3. I can do both.
    I can write, coach five new clients, start a podcast, and consider vlogging next month.

But if you want to move past the debilitating assumptions, you must change those three assumptions with three core truths. For example, I had to make some hard decisions about where to focus my energy and time if writing would rise to the level of essential.

  1. I choose to…
    I choose to focus on writing for the next six months to share ideas and open dialogue on how we can improve and become our best every day.
  2. Only a few things really matter.
    When it comes to writing, only a few things matter. Write every day. Write from a place of authenticity. Tell your story; it’s the only one you can tell. Keep improving. Hit publish.
  1. I can do anything, but not everything.
    I can do many things to advance my work. But if writing is the “essential” thing, I must let go of everything else — for a time.

When you begin to think of at least “six impossible things before breakfast,” your work has only begun. Of all those possibilities, which deserves your time and attention? Do you have strategies to explore, support, and take action? Are you willing to learn and continuously improve?

Ideas are all around you

What possibilities will you find for today? While you may explore many sources of ideas, I offer a word of caution.

Look first within yourself, within your team. Generate the possibilities that focus on what’s most essential.

You have many tools. However, if you do not begin with honest, transparent dialogue in your head or between your colleagues, you will miss the inspiration of the most essential possibility.

Send me a note or share these ideas with others. And always—be and become #yourbest.

Revised on February 12, 2020