Mick Ebeling believes anyone can create change.
The founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, a social innovation lab and production company, aims to leave his audience with that same belief when he takes the stage for ED (Filene) Talk, sponsored by CUNA Councils, on Sunday, Feb. 27, at the 2022 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference.
“I want people to walk away with this feeling of, ‘If that guy can do these things, then I can clearly do things,’” Ebeling says. “I want to dispel this premise that you have to be ridiculously educated, talented, and wealthy to change the world.”
Ebeling never set out to change the world. The producer and filmmaker stepped into a new venture in the 2000s when he met Tony “Tempt One” Quan, a graffiti artist with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).
“This guy had been lying motionless in a bed for seven years, unable to communicate, and that prompted me to say, ‘Wait a second, that's absurd; that's not right. I just can't walk by this problem,’” Ebeling says. “So, I did what producers do. We convene brilliant teams of people. My wife, kids, and I moved out of the house, all these guys moved into our house, and we created this thing called the EyeWriter that helped him be able to draw and communicate again.”
With the goal accomplished, everyone dispersed without a long-term plan. Ebeling went back to being a producer and his house returned to normal—briefly.
“We all went back to our day jobs,” he says. “And then we woke up one day and the EyeWriter was in TIME magazine's top 50 inventions, press came in from all over the world … TED Talks … it’s part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art … all these things. We went, ‘Whoa! What just happened here?’”
After speaking with his loved ones and mentors about a career shift, Ebeling decided to continue focusing on his production company, The Ebeling Group. But his path quickly took another turn when he got an email in 2010 from Quan, who said he drew something for the first time in seven years and felt “like I've been held underwater and someone finally reached out and pulled my head up so I could take a breath.”
“That was the moment Not Impossible Labs started,” Ebeling says.
Since that moment, Not Impossible Labs has created technology for the sake of humanity. That has led to technological advancements like Project Daniel, which built 3D-printed arms for Sudanese amputees; Don’s Voice, which gave a “voice” to an ALS patient who hadn’t spoken in 15 years; and Music: Not Impossible, wearables that let people feel music in a “surround body” experience.
Each of those projects developed from the mantra of “commit, then figure it out.”
“It's about saying this has to happen and figuring out how to make it happen,” Ebeling says. “I want people to walk away from this talk saying, ‘Wait a second, I don't need permission. I don't need degrees. I don't need diplomas. I don't need credentials. I don't need anything. All I need is to see something that's absurd and decide that I'm not going to stand back and have this exist in the world. Not on my watch.’ And then commit and figure it out.”
Ebeling believes in the idea of “help one, help many,” saying that sticking to a problem is easier when there’s a face behind the issue. That mindset allows Not Impossible Labs to focus on solving a problem for one person, which makes it harder to quit when the going gets tough.
‘’Saying, ‘I'm having a hard time solving hunger.’ That's easier to walk away from,’” Ebeling explains. “But it's really hard to say, ‘Jimmy is going hungry right now, and I'm going to let Jimmy go hungry.’ That's a much harder conversation to have with yourself.”
Ebeling sees some parallels between that mindset and member-focused credit unions’ belief in financial well-being for all.
“Credit unions are about people having access,” says Ebeling, recalling when he became a member of the Air Academy Federal Credit Union in 1988. “If you look at the things we do at Not Impossible Labs, it's typically about accessibility. I really like that about the concept of credit unions. It feels to me like there is a desire to just be there for someone.
“What I’ve really enjoyed is the humanity of it.”
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