Possibility: learning to see

This morning one of my sons was trying to put a new water bottle in a bottle holder: “It doesn’t fit.” I laughed at him, because I’d put the same bottle in the same holder a day before. I told him. He tried again. It fitted easily.

We’re often terrible at looking for things unless we know that they’re there. I’ll look for something in a drawer. It’s not there. I double check with my wife, who had it last. She comes to help. And there it is, right where I just looked.

Note: This phenomena has been known to happen with the roles reversed, but the version I’ve described is the default.

This is another angle on seeing the future – our vision is usually constrained by our sense of the possible. Sometimes a thing seems impossible, or we can’t think of it, until we see it done, when suddenly it’s so easy.

So how do we learn to see more?

The Art Of Possibility, which I’m just finishing, lays out a great set of ideas for looking at the world in new ways.

Finite and Infinite Games is a bit tougher on the brain, but very fun, and opens a few new windows.

I’ve found Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation an amazing tool for seeing new possibilities for the charity I work for in Jakarta.

There’s a whole book of Kevin Kelly’s available for free on his blog where he wrote almost everything that the internet’s done to date – in 1997. And it’s still relevant for imagining what happens next.

This Econtalk episode with Benedict Evans is a brilliant introduction for how to think about the future too.

Moving to live in a completely different culture has been an amazing eye-opener to new possibilities.

And of course, Seth Godin riffs on this in this blog post, and in this one about the ‘impossible’ four minute mile, and on this episode of The Moment with Brian Koppelman.

All of these will get posts of their own sometime. 

For now, suffice to say that we need to do two things:

  1. Read, watch, listen, socialise, live, do widely. Be omnivorous and voracious. The more we know of what people have done, the more possibilities we can see, and the more pathways begin to open up.
  2. Use these tools – I’d love to hear about others – to learn to see possibilities that haven’t been done before. Then choose some to make happen.

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