November 2012: Innovation or “Just Improving?”

by Brad on October 26, 2012

“We all continually move on the edges of eternity, and are sometimes granted vistas through the fabric of illusion.”    — Ansel Adams, Autobiography.

What do you want? No, really, when you think about this life you’ve been given, what do you truly want? Most people I talk with, including my coaching clients, offer up such things as reduced stress & struggle, greater productivity, more effective communication, improved relationships, etc. Noteworthy and valid wants, yet all share something in common. They represent things whose outcomes can be defined ahead of time, whose measures of success predicted ahead of time, and whose process of change planned ahead of time. Change like this is therefore step-wise, somewhat mechanistic, the kind we often call continuous improvement; it’s always framed in contrast to what has happened up until now. Rarely does anyone say, “I want to experience a blow-me-away breakthrough, one which rocks my world, and sends me to possibility I can’t even imagine today. How can you help me with that?”  (I’d love to, thank you.)

Believing we need to make things happen (by planning, predicting, measuring, controlling), we’ve become addicted to the goal-driven, control-based, results-guided drain of energy that seems to define our society. Worse, unconscious ways of thinking associated with this belief tell us there’s no other way, so we are unaware we’re blocking ourselves from greater possibility. Moreover, when we try to innovate, we’re left frustrated, because we use the same level of thinking that stops us from innovating, which, as my first coach said, is “like trying to wash off paint with paint.”   So we can’t say we want anything really big because we can’t see anything really big; we’ve become habituated to thinking small. As a result, we fail to notice the potential all around us.

Opportunities for innovation greet us all the time. We fail to experience them because breakthroughs occur not by making them happen, but by allowing them. And to release control for long enough to simply allow anything would strike our everyday thinking as lazy and unproductive. There’s hope, however, because we humans possess levels of consciousness far deeper than the thinking required to get through an ordinary day. With perspective and with some practice, we can tap into those levels, shifting forever we way we see, think about, and experience possibility in life.

Breakthroughs happen when conditions are conducive to their manifestation, not we want them to happen. That asks for new skills, skills such as curiosity, openness, self-reflection, patience, acceptance, and trust. Those skills fly in the face of all the “doing” skills we’re so used to. Although we seem to have mental models for curiosity, openness and self-refection, we tend to think of patience, acceptance and trust as elusive and impossible to achieve. In fact, however, they are natural and effortless by-products of a conscious & committed personal practice of curiosity, openness and self-reflection. This practice results in often-dramatic shifts in the way you think, and can make breakthroughs everyday occurrence. Strangely perhaps, you “cultivate” this shift through a practice of non-doing. Just like cultivating a garden, you don’t “make” roses grow; they grow fine on their own. You “allow” them to grow by creating conditions roses love (nutrients, soil, access to sunlight, water). Breakthrough innovation is more like growing a garden than it is like building a house. If you’re ready to become the person you never thought you could be, here’s a path.

Exercise: Toward breakthrough. Create a regular time and place every day for quiet self-inquiry. A half hour each day would be a good start. The more attention you give to this, the more growth you’ll experience in your thinking and seeing. Remember, you’re counteracting the inertia of years of thinking small. Sit quietly. Do nothing. As unconscious thoughts inevitably arise, let them pass. It may take a while, but your mind eventually finds calm. Now listen. Don’t listen for; just listen. If you find you must “do” something, be curious … or be grateful … or ponder what it would mean to trust life implicitly. Although the “cause-and-effect” link may not be obvious, you’ll soon find that your consciousness has expanded so that the perpetual potential of everyday breakthrough is no longer outside your worldview, but inside. Rock your world!      (P.S. If you’re a coach, you may enjoy a coaching-related slant on this topic; see my blog entry on the website of the International Coach Federation’s New England chapter.)


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

In the classical view of science, a system responds smoothly to change; it’s said to be linear. Changes in one thing cause changes in other things. All the science we learned through high school actually depended on linear response. We would like to believe life is like this, too, especially since science told us it was. But it is not; life is non-linear. Life is uncertain; openings to new possibility happen in response to always-changing conditions, not in response to a plan. Nature steps into open spaces such as these with her creative process, spreading life as she goes. Nature doesn’t have to try to do this. Remaining open to opportunity (which comes from not trying), she allows the process to do the work. This is how the universe coalesced into galaxies, stars and planets; it’s how evolution continues to mold life in the midst of change and uncertainty. Shifts in available resources create openings; life responds naturally, by creating value in one of three ways:

  • by replication – making more of the same thing, in times that are “easy;” (reproduction)
  • by improvement – making what already exists better, during times of stress; (evolution)
  • by invention – creating something new, beyond earlier conception, during times of chaos. (innovation)

Life’s inherent uncertainty and unpredictability create opportunity. Creative expression then flourishes by filling the void offered. Without uncertainty, there’d be no room for new opportunity, so no place for creativity to happen. How do you “use” life’s uncertainty? Do you step into the open space with your creative genius, or do you seek the perceived comfort and safety of the everyday? What’s your relationship to creating value in life – through doing the same thing, through improvement, through innovation?

You can find two examples of how personally transformative experiences have touched my life here, as a part of my e-book, A Field Guide to Life. See note below for more about this book.


Openings to New Possibility

My book: A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom – The only thing that can stop you from creating and living an extraordinary life every single day is a belief that it’s not possible. This book offers a path beyond that belief, and the ways of seeing and thinking that derive from it, so you can reclaim the authentic power of your deepest longing and create a life you love. Offered as an e-book for purchase, or free of charge as an on-going series of blog articles to which you can subscribe.

An invitation to bold possibility: I love to write about life-changing possibility, yet I am aware that most people will not integrate these perspectives into their lives on their own. I’m here to help. Good ideas are just that – good ideas. They become your own good ideas only by developing personal felt experience of them. It’s often a struggle creating this personal experience because, left to ourselves, we use the same thinking that got us where we are to get us somewhere else. If, despite workshops, programs and reading you’ve done, life still falls short of your dreams, consider a “guide for the unexplored territory” of your future. I’ll meet you wherever you may be on your path. Together we’ll challenge the thinking that holds you back, discover what matters most to you and chart a course into the territory of your potential. Contact me, and begin to shift forever your view of what’s possible.

Join The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription offering giving you an opportunity to stay connected, interact, be challenged, learn. Gain access to articles, newsletters and blog; you’ll find “new stuff” on a regular basis. This newsletter is found as a blog entry (under Purposeful Wanderings), along with several back issues. I welcome comment on anything you read; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together. If you already subscribe to this newsletter, you’re enrolled.

Book of the monthLiving Deeply, The Art & Science of Transformation in Everyday Life, published by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. IONS, founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell, explores the frontiers of human consciousness through research and education. The theme of this book is simple: “By fostering curiosity, creativity, and introspection in your life, you can open yourself to expanded dimensions of your being.” It offers an engaging summary of living more deeply, as interpreted by some of the world’s great teachers. It’s an approachable invitation to explore your own inner truth. … And, if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.

 Download November 2012 pdf

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Phil Goddard October 26, 2012 at 6:12 pm


Great article and so true. I fought this for years. Once I let it happen vs. forcing it my way, it’s amazing the wonderful things that unfold. Keep up the great work.



Cancel reply

Leave a Comment