the ceo magazine, innovation,
Andy Lothian, CEO, Insights Learning and Development

For entrepreneurs, harnessing the power of possibility takes an idea and turns it into a business enterprise. For teams, leveraging possibility creates an output that is greater than the sum of its parts. When we give ourselves permission to operate in an ‘anything is possible’ mindset, we open our lives, careers and organizations up to the power of what could be. This mindset can unlock systemic challenges, overcome lingering obstacles and even manufacturer brand new business opportunities.

As hard as it is to believe when you’re in the thick of it, groundbreaking insight can and does emerge from disorder, chaos and confusion. In fact, some of the most revolutionary inventions have been stumbled upon in a non-linear fashion. For instance, the pacemaker came on the market after it failed as a heartbeat detector. Similarly, some of NASA’s first space suits were equipped with Velcro because an engineer wanted to recreate the structure of the cockleburs that stuck to his dog’s fur.

The only downside to harnessing the power of possibility in individual and organizational development is that our professional environments aren’t naturally built to support this way of thinking and operating. Being open to the power of possibility requires that we make deliberate changes in what we value and prioritize in our lives and work.

Here are a few ways to do that:

1) Use “Yes, and…” instead of “No, but…”

The practice of “Yes, and…” is most commonly known as an improvisation device that actors and musicians use to build on what another person is saying or doing. Here, the players progress a story or piece of music by affirming whatever ideas the group throws out while then adding on their own ideas. In professional contexts, utilizing “Yes, and” is a fruitful way leaders can enhance collaboration and innovation because it creates a dynamic where there is no hierarchy of input and  no right or wrong answers.

In line with practicing a “Yes, and…” approach in professional environments, author and professor of management, Frank J. Barrett describes the notion of “developing affirmative competence” in his book “Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz”.  Barrett says, “Improvisation grows out of a receptivity to what the situation offers.” He adds that “human beings are at their best when they are open to the world, able to notice what’s needed, and equipped with the skills to respond meaningfully in the moment.”

2) Don’t let “systems” thinking overshadow “possibility” thinking

As we develop from children to adults, our lives pose increasing complexities that call on our critical thinking skills to navigate. While this is a natural part of growing up, it also means that as we move through life, we are exercising our systems /left-brain thinking much more than our possibility/right-brain thinking. Pablo Picasso famously referred to this dynamic when he said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Our challenge as professionals and business leaders is to exercise possibility thinking, in spite of the systems thinking pressures. To do this we have to actively give ourselves permission to temporarily suspend logic and reason. This means remaining open to ideas, even when you don’t know how to support its execution.  By opening yourself and your organization to the power of possibility, you can see old problems through a new lens, allowing new solutions to arise.

3) Make it safe for people to be themselves

In the more than twenty years I’ve led a global people development business, I’ve come to know that when business leaders make it safe for their people to be themselves, they will be overwhelmed with the myriad of unexpected talents and skills that emerge from their workforce. By creating an environment where every individual is encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, organizations open themselves up to leveraging the power of possibility within every employee and team.

Author Paul Hawken reminds business leaders, “Being in business is not about making money. It is a way to become who you are.” For leaders to unlock individual and organizational success, they simply have to know and show who they are and make it safe for others to do the same. By establishing an environment where people can bring their whole selves to work and creating opportunities for growth, leaders will come to see how enabling their people’s personal breakthroughs enables the development of business breakthroughs, too.

You could go so far as to say our professional lives are contingent upon contemplating possibility and putting it into practice. Without risk-averse entrepreneurs first harnessing the power of possibility though original ideas and unique business propositions, there’d be nothing for organizations to be founded upon. Equally, without leaders being able to see the potential in an idea and grow a business out of seedling of possibility, our good ideas would never get off the ground. Indeed, if we make room for what we don't yet know, we will lead ourselves, our people and our businesses into a world of infinite possibility.

About the Author

Andy Lothian was named the 2016 EY Entrepreneur for the Year for the whole of the UK, the 2016 Courier Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year and a 2016 Scottish Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, CEO Andy Lothian has led a career dedicated to the connection between personal development and business development.

Andy founded Insights Learning and Development with his father, Andi Lothian, more than 20 years ago and has turned a two-man operation into a successful global development company. In his dual roles as Insights’ Chief Executive and Head of People (Human Resources and Talent Development function), Andy is passionately committed to enabling profound people development, whether for the organization’s clients or employees. 


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