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Simon says, “Expand your thinking to prevent closing your mind.”

It is no secret stuff happens, things can go wrong, and sooner or later, you are going to find yourself up that old creek without a paddle. Plan on it, my friend. What’s worse, the only way out will be up that thousand foot cliff you were prepared to jump off the top of when you took those flying lessons.

“But Simon,” you say, “I cannot solve a problem I did not know about. I new there was a chance I might lose my paddle when I started up that creek; but that cliff, well, it was just suddenly there and I certainly had not planned on that. Life just moved that monster squarely into the path to my success and that is the end of that.”

Life surely does have a way of biting you on the backside when you are least expecting it. Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you; and that cliff is definitely the bear that is getting you today. Life can undeniably be a bear now and then, a thousand foot monster standing between you and success, an obstacle so wide you cannot see its edges, so high you cannot see its top. It is totally eclipsing your future.

Coach knows. He has been there before. You are rightfully discouraged. You are totally bummed-out and definitely not in any mood for another one of Simon’s little rules; but try this one anyway. You never know. It might be just what the doctor ordered.

•You cannot come up with a creative solution until you have creatively defined the problem.

Start by asking, “If this is not an insurmountable barrier to my success, then what is it?”

The answer is it is a problem to be solved. Since a problem is the difference between how things are and how you want them to be, your challenge is defining and then reducing the difference. Your problem is not the thousand foot cliff. What is it, then?

•”I want to reach my goals.”

•”I cannot paddle on up the creek since I am without a paddle.”

•”There is a thousand foot cliff between me and success.”

“Okay, Simon” you say, “There is my problem. I am completely stymied.”

No, a good try but you do not quite get it yet. Your problem is you want to reach your goals and have not yet figured out how. You tried paddling your own canoe and it did not work out quite the way you had expected. Coach will not chastise you for not having a healthy skepticism for what might go wrong nor for not knowing what you would do if it did not work out; but you are well-served to consider Simon’s little rules the next time you head up the creek.

•You want to reach your goals.

•You do not know how to get there from where you are.

•Your problem is reducing the difference between what you know and what you need to know to reach your goals.

There you go. You have one of those frustrating, nasty knowledge deficits. Your internal resources have left you a little short for the moment. What to do? Either dig around in your internal resource bank to see if you can come up with something or call someone who can give you a knowledge opportunity.

“What do you mean, call someone? Did you forget I am up a creek without a paddle? How do you expect me to call someone from here?”

Use your cellular phone. Surely you did not go up that creek by yourself without your cellular phone, did you? You said you took a chance on losing your paddle; so you did at least plan on how you would call for help if it actually happened, didn’t you? You do understand it is possible to get yourself so far into the muck it would even test a success super-star to get out, don’t you?

You are right. Even Simon needs to be reminded of his own little rules now and again. You can only start from where you are with what you have; and you have a serious problem to solve.

If Simon were a certified success guru instead of someone like you who is doing the best he can with what he has, he would have an amazingly clever solution to get you up-and-over any thousand foot cliff, past any monster standing in your way. You would be shocked by its simplicity and humbled by Simon’s display of instant brilliance; but alas, Simon knows as do you there are no free lunches and no easy fixes for difficult problems. Your success is serious business and succeeding is very challenging work. Your coach is too committed to your success to mislead you or give you hope you will find a magic button. It is just you and your growing success business vs. the universe. The truth of it is, in the final analysis,

•Your success depends on continuous invention.

Have you ever thought of yourself as an inventor? If you have not been one before, your success depends on your being one now. You need an invention to reach your goals in spite of losing your paddle and in the face of that thousand foot cliff. You need to invent a solution to your problem.

Initiate the inventing process by linking what you do not know about the problem with what you do know. Coach will use your thousand foot cliff to illustrate; but you can plug in any serious problem needing an invented solution. Just keep at it until you have exhausted all of the knows/don’t knows you can generate.

•You know you are up the creek without a paddle. You do not know how to get further up the creek without a paddle.

•You do know there is a thousand foot cliff between you and success. You do not know how to get from where you are to where you want to go with a thousand foot cliff in the way.

You now have two good inventor’s questions to ponder.

•How do you get further up a creek without a paddle?

•How do you get from here to there when you do not have any obvious way to get past the cliff?

Probably you have thought of an answer or two to the questions already. It does not matter at this point whether the answers are reasonable or not. Expand your thinking. Any possibility you can imagine goes on your answer list. You are becoming an inventor. You no longer have problems; you have questions and possible inventions.

Next, link what you do know about the problem with what you would like to know. For the “would like to know” part, you will add new points but it is fine to use the “do not knows” from earlier too.

•You do know you are up a creek.

•You do know you do not have a paddle.

•You do know a thousand foot cliff is blocking your way.

•You do know how to get on up the creek is certainly not obvious.

•You do know you likely cannot get around, over, or through that thousand foot cliff.

•You want to know what your immediate choices are, understanding there is always something you can do.

•You want to know what the hidden opportunities are in the current situation, understanding there are unexploited opportunities in every situation.

You do something, using what you know or want to know. If you cannot find an opportunity, you invent one. You let your thinking expand to take in more information, more possibilities. It is time to identify differences instead of looking for similarities, time to force your mind to diverge before allowing it to converge.

Your mind wants to make sense of the world so it rushes to put things into categories, give pieces of this and that familiar names, and group current experiences with experiences you have had before. The mental process is reliable enough and efficient enough events smoothly transition from one to another fairly flawlessly. The little differences and small aberrations go unnoticed.

When you are inventing, the natural mental process has to be overridden. The natural process quietly forces experience into pre-defined niches whether they quite fit or not. Two objects not quite the same are both called chairs. The experience you are having with one person is pigeonholed as just like the one you had a year ago with someone else. Your perceptions are conditioned to see what you expect instead of exactly what is in front of you. Your thinking and experience converge significantly with what you have thought and done before; and if you think and do like you have always thought and done, becoming an inventor is not possible. Instead of converging, Force your thinking to expand, your mind to diverge. You are looking for the novel, the unique, the unusual, the element you have never thought about or experienced before. Importantly,

•Never discard your ideas, since the ones you discard are more likely to be novel and divergent than those you keep.

•Occasionally try a new approach to a problem, even if you know the old approach works, just to avoid getting in the habit of always doing things the same way.

•Give new names to familiar things, use other labels that fit as well as the one you usually use, e. g., the object with four legs is a posterior elevation stabilizer.

•Identify at least one new twist to every situation, since there is something you have never experienced in every situation.

Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise. When you let your mind get out of shape, you are not up to being an inventor. You may still force out an original thought or two once in a while but do not stand a chance when circumstances call for a fast, one-hundred-thought-dash. You experience mental collapse after only a few hesitant thoughts. Invention is a sport for well-conditioned, well-trained mental athletes; and recreational thinkers just cannot make the grade.

Have you warmed up? Have you done your mental stretching exercises? Are you ready for a good mind-run? If so,

•Try redefining the problem, since there are always alternative ways of understanding the challenge.

You have previously defined your problem as having your path to success blocked by a thousand foot cliff. The problem is compounded by your being up the creek without a paddle. Suppose, alternatively, the actual situation is you were just exploring that particular creek to see if success was up that way and it was not. You are not disappointed or frustrated. You merely wanted to check it out. As for the paddle, you do not need it anymore anyway while you drift back down the creek to find another branch in your success river. Also, since you have a range of success goals and not a single win/lose success goal, that thousand foot cliff is not blocking you from anything. You are simply not going to succeed quite as quickly as you had imagined, at least not up that creek.

Redefining the problem has an extra benefit here. It puts you back onto your success track. It is there you suddenly remember your problem has nothing to do with creeks, paddles, or thousand foot cliffs. It has to do with your success and whether you have the mental muscle to come up with an invention creative enough to succeed.

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