Solving problems with ‘beautiful, limitless naivete’
Scale large problems by connecting them to a single person, says Mick Ebeling.
What if you thought of an idea but were certain it was impossible? Congratulations, says philanthropist and entrepreneur Mick Ebeling: You’re “the first human in history to come up with something that shall remain impossible forever.”
Instead, the head of Not Impossible Labs told attendees Sunday night at the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference that he uses “beautiful, limitless naivete” to turn things previously thought impossible into reality.
“We didn’t get the memo that we’re not supposed to be able to pull this off, so we go ahead and do it anyway,” he says.
Ebeling’s Not Impossible Labs has gathered smart people from around the world to tackle problems such as helping blind skateboarders skate and giving paralyzed artists the ability draw again.
It was the latter situation that led Ebeling to start Not Impossible Labs, and it was his search for other “impossible” problems that has led to its evolution.
“When you see something that’s absurd and it kicks you in the gut, you say, ‘that’s not right, that shouldn’t be that way,’" he says. "But then you commit, and you figure out how to pull it off.
“That’s scary, but it’s how our species has operated since the beginning of time. It’s how every single one of you have tackled a challenge in your life that you've overcome. It’s a muscle we know exists. We just forget it.”
Even problems on the largest scale can be attacked with this approach. Ebeling asked those in attendance how many would like to help solve hunger. Many hands were raised. But when he asked, “How?” there weren’t any immediate answers.
Then he asked, if he left his hat onstage to collect money to buy dinner for a homeless man named Jimmy in his neighborhood, would anyone be interested in helping? Almost every hand in the room went up.
“Because now hunger has a name, it has a face. It’s not this massive, boil-the-ocean kind of concept. It’s a single human being,” he says. “What we do at the beginning of every project, we find our 'one,' because we know that if we can solve it for one person, if we can focus our energy on that one person, that gives us the ability to tell the story, and scale it for more people.”
That “one” is how he gets started with his projects, whether it’s providing a cerebral palsy patient with a modular mobility device, or a text message-based service to connect homeless individuals to food, health care, and employment opportunities.
“Who is your one? Who is that one person? Maybe you drive by them, maybe you walk by them, maybe you know them from church or school or Scouts, maybe you read about them,” Ebeling says.
“Who is that one person that if you were to do something to change their life for the better, you could?”
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