Seeing Unseen Solutions

I recently closed a speech with this challenge: “You can live each day in a world filled with “problems,” or rise each morning and embrace a world filled with unseen solutions… eager for you to find them. The decision is yours… both worlds exist. The one you choose is the one you will create.”

Afterwards, during a Q&A session, a young man remarked, “Your presentation was awesome, but how do you go about seeing unseen solutions?” What a great question! In a nutshell, here’s my answer:

Seeing “unseen solutions” starts by believing they exist. This is fundamental. Without this belief and a willingness to suspend our judgment and remain open to new possibilities, unseen solutions remain just that–unseen.

Secondly, when one appears, we need to accept it. That’s right… unseen solutions try to get our attention on a regular basis, but we’re too busy working and living to notice. Because most potential solutions dwell on the edge of our perception, we usually overlook, ignore, or dismiss them. Occasionally, a potential solution is so persistent; we can’t help but catch a glimpse of it. When this happens, we briefly acknowledge it, believing we’ll remember it. But when we try recalling it, we discover it’s gone… or parts are missing.

While some solutions appear all at once, most come in small flashes that strike us when we least expect it… when we’re reading, taking a shower, on a walk, exercising or daydreaming. These flashes are fleeting gifts! We all receive them, but few take them seriously. To quote my late grandfather, “When God whispers in your ear, pay attention.”

Most people acknowledge that writing down your goals significantly increases your chances of making them real. The same idea holds true for exposing unseen solutions. My notebooks are filled with random ideas, sketches, quotes, notes, news clippings and photos… mostly fragments of unseen solutions. Capturing these fragments is like planting seeds. In many cases, I’m uncertain what they mean or if they’ll grow into solutions when they first enter my notebook.

Beethoven carried a notebook at all times. After filling the pages he’d put it away and start a new one. Within a month or so, he’d revisit the earlier notebook. If an idea struck him as he culled through the pages, he’d transfer it to a second notebook and the process continued. By the time his ideas reached the third notebook, they were well on the way to becoming a sonata. Imagine if he had ignored those initial flashes. While not all seeds take root… if we plant enough, we increase our odds of success. In Beethoven’s case, the seeds he planted have been bearing fruit for generations.

In addition to Beethoven, consider Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Madame Curie, Thomas Jefferson, Amelia Earhart, Thomas Edison, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein… you get the idea. These historic individuals, who exposed unseen solutions and created new realities, all shared a common practice. They carried notebooks and captured the fleeting gifts they were given. I often wonder if notebooks are a product of brilliant people… or if brilliant people are a product of notebooks.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig writes, “It is a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away.”

If you’re not already doing so, I encourage you to start answering the door before more gifts go away. Get a notebook or a journal and write down your ideas, observations and insights when they appear. In addition to seeing unseen solutions, you’ll discover this practice is therapeutic. It brings clarity and makes room for more possibilities.


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