How to Become Indispensable: Pour Your Soul Into Whatever You Do

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Soul

“Use what talents you possess, the woods will be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”  Henry van Dyke

Times are tough. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs in 2015. And it’s not just the oil and gas sector – HP, Microsoft, Caterpillar, Radioshack, JP Morgan have sent thousands people home. Last month analysts reported that this year IBM may lay off a record number in its workforce.

We all know there’s no permanency in the job market. There aren’t decades-long careers with large multi-national companies anymore. Career paths have become much more fluid.

“It’s a giant transformation that happened just in the last five or 10 years,” says Seth Godin, a bestselling author of Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? “As we have an economy that used to make money by leveraging a factory, a system, a process, to an economy now where the people who win are the ones who do stuff we didn’t expect and we didn’t ask for.”

What can help us to stay relevant? What skills can keep us afloat? How do we become indispensable?

“My super power is not being one thing, but many things,” says Annie Conn, Experience Designer at ThoughtWorks, in her insightful post My Path to a Fluid Career. “I am an example of the new fluid careerist. What’s a fluid career? It’s a way through life that leverages a collection of experiences, expertise, roles/titles and spans multiple industries. Fluid careerists navigate ambiguity and are nimble. We’re restlessly driven by curiosity, have a passionate need for excellence and aspire to self-awareness.”

What Annie says makes perfect sense to me – I know this from my own experience. When I graduated with a major in Chinese language and history back in 1993, I thought that I’d be working in an international organization working on China-related projects. Yet, my career took a completely non-linear path. I have worked in five countries in the hospitality business, government consulting, technology business development, non-profit program management and finally, non-profit fundraising.

What I’ve learned from all these life experiences is that to succeed today, you need to be flexible, continuously hone your skills, and discover new opportunities through creative thinking and entrepreneurial drive. Most of all, you should be prepared to embrace uncertainty, adapt to unusual circumstances and apply your skillset to the particular career in which you find yourself at any given time. Be a catalyst of new creative ideas and try to stay positive, because your success is in your attitude.

Quoting Godin, to be successful, you will need to become a “linchpin,” someone who can “invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.” Linchpins are the people who can work with “no rule book,” people who are happy to always make their best effort to transform even mundane tasks into something remarkable.

It all comes down to simple truth – pour your soul into whatever you do. Represent your nonprofit, start-up or business in such a way that the whole world knows that you own it.

Want to test if you’re indispensable? Lolly Dascal, President and CEO of Lead from Within, gives us a hint: “Remember, the people who go around saying they’re indispensable never really are. Being indispensable doesn’t come from ego but from what others think of you as you help them succeed.”

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Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, creative fundraiser, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. 

Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, innovative marketing and fundraising.

 Check out Andrey’s latest e-book, Reignite Your Thinking: Kickstart Your Career By Using Brains, Intuition and Creativity

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Don’t Throw Away Your Million Dollar Jackpot Ticket, or Why You Should Continue Writing on LinkedIn

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Lotto

In July of 2011, Sharon Duncan bought a lottery ticket at a local store in Beebe, Arkansas. She thought the ticket had no chance of winning and tossed it into a trash bin right in the store.

Turned out it was a winner! Her neighbor Sharon Jones discovered the ticket in the trash bin, and knew exactly what she had found. Ms. Jones claimed the prize money…a million dollars!

That’s just luck, you say. But is it?

Consider another “lost ticket” story. In 1976, Ron Wayne, one of the three Apple co-founders, owned a 10 percent stake in the company. However, after just 12 days Wayne decided to quit and sold his shares for…$800! In his interview with Cult of Mac Wayne said, “They (Jobs and Wozniak) were whirlwinds — it was like having a tiger by the tail. If I had stayed with Apple I probably would have wound up the richest man in the cemetery.”

Indeed, he’d be a billionaire today.

How many of us give up too easily when our chances of success seem slim?

Take LinkedIn Pulse authors. There has been a wave of changes on LinkedIn lately, some of which have made authors frustrated. I agree that LinkedIn Pulse has become less dynamic, and its algorithms are promoting a lot of cookie cutter articles while not catching all the quality articles out there. I also agree that with the growing amount of spam on LinkedIn, we are less optimistic even about communicating with new contacts.

But should we just stop writing and move to another platform? Can writing ever be easy?

No, writing is more of a lottery than a predictable sport. Ask Jack London, Emily Dickinson or Ernest Hemingway. Did they stop trying? Should we just forget about our winning ticket?

“Can one individual’s social media activities, meaningful and honest or pointless, impact a multitude of other minds significantly?” asks Milos Djukic, one of the most original writers on LinkedIn.

Comparing social media writing with the famous Butterfly Effect, he argues that every one of us can make a difference. “You are one in a million, equally unique, unrepeatable and unpredictable. A single flap of a butterfly’s wings may provoke a new Renaissance… It is your global social impact,” says Djukic.

So write to make this impact. Write, but don’t preach. Write to create positive thinking. Write to inspire. Write to make sense. Write to transform yourself.

Ray Bradbury, the king of science fiction, once said, “And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”

Or listen to the advice from Karthik Rajan, another successful LinkedIn blogger, who heard a perfect advice on writing from his mother – “Just share your experiences, trigger the reader’s curiosity and let the audience draw their own conclusions, respect them as individuals and they will in turn respect you.” And shared he did! Thanks to LinkedIn blogging, Karthik is now sharing his thoughts in his Huffington Post column. Not bad?

“It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
—Robert Benchley

But what should you do with all of your LinkedIn articles? What’s the ultimate goal?

For me personally, writing itself is a rewarding experience. Yet, when I started writing on LinkedIn back in May 2014, I had no idea that my 42 articles would help me find new business leads, meet inspiring social entrepreneurs and non-profits, and open many doors. Most importantly, I found a great diverse audience, fellow writers and readers, who constantly guide me and improve my writing one article at a time. Isn’t that a treasure?

There’s not one single goal in writing, because its ROI is more than just a monetary reward.

So instead of throwing your dream into a trash bin, think of compiling your articles into a non-fiction book.

This is advice that I got from Derek Sivers, a successful entrepreneur, musician and the bestselling author of Anything You Want. This book changed me. It inspired me so much that I wanted to speak with Derek and learn from him. So when I read on the book’s back cover that Derek’s “main act of public service is answering emails from strangers,” I emailed him asking whether I should write a non-fiction book based on the articles I wrote on LinkedIn. Here’s what he said:

“Yes! Absolutely. Share whatever you learned. We should all do that. It’s just the right thing to do.

Tell the tales the best you can.  Start by telling them to friends & strangers, before you write them down.  Watch feedback.

Don’t worry about it becoming an official book. First just start by making each experience into its own blog post like this: https://sivers.org/1idea.

Once the blog posts are well-received, look into making them a book.”

How about that? Want to know how to improve your LinkedIn articles before you venture into the book business?

Following Derek’s blog advice, begin by “presenting one little idea, something anyone can read in under two minutes, and shine a spotlight on it.” Watch for comments, and see if other social media channels pick up on your content.

Important – “don’t bury your brilliant idea on page 217”! “Stop the orchestra. Solo that motif. Repeat it. Let the other instruments build upon it.”

Once you’ve selected your top winners, you can plunge into the excitement of book writing. After all, you’ve got nothing to lose! Your own LinkedIn audience improved and approved your articles. And while you’re waiting to receive your first freshly minted book from a publishing house, hear out this advice on how you can actually get paid for what you write, by Jeff Haden, a ghostwriter, speaker, LinkedIn Influencer, and contributing editor for Inc. who authored over 50 non-fiction books.

But always remember your duty as a writer, which Theodora Goss said best: “If you’re a writer, your first duty, a duty you owe to yourself and your readers, and to your writing itself, is to become wonderful. To become the best writer you can possibly be.”

Isn’t that like winning the jackpot?

 

Insights on Demand: 3 Paths to Trigger Your “A-ha!” Moments

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SAM_0059

“Business ideas are like those flying dragons in Avatar. First you have to find one, let it choose you, then be brave enough to ride it.” ― Ryan Lilly 

Call it an “a-ha” moment, Eureka! or an insight: everyone wants to be a little clairvoyant. Each of us has experienced one moment when suddenly out of nowhere we clearly had a solution in our minds.

Seeing future possibilities, making new discoveries, and experimenting with your ideas may open a whole new page in your life or the life of your organization. But how can you get more of these? Can you actually program these moments?

In his bestselling book, Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, Gary Klein, a renowned cognitive psychologist, shares his thoughts on how individuals, as well as organizations, can increase their chances of gaining useful insights.

Based on extensive research, Klein came up with his Triple Path Model. The model can help you discover more insights by identifying triggers, subsequent activities and outcomes.

Here’s how it works.

There are three insight paths defined by Klein:

1. Contradiction Path –> Finding an Inconsistency
2. Connection Path –> Spot an Implication
3. Creative Desperation –> Escape an Impasse

Let’s look at each of them and see what can be applied to our real life situations.

1. Contradiction Path


Apart from reading Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie, have you ever been in a situation when something felt not quite right? Be it a wrong pattern, strange financial report or missing data: you just can’t get it out of your mind. Klein provided a great example – Harry Markopolos, afinancial analyst who “sniffed” Bernie Madoff’s foul play well before the SEC. In fact, Markopolos’ suspicion started with that strange gut feeling – something’s wrong with that financial report!

Of course, spotting inconsistencies is not just about tracing the Madoffs and Enrons of this world. You can use this to help launch a new start-up or impactful program for your non-profit.

“If you’re part of a start-up,” writes Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer, “I believe that your success might actually be defined by whether you are willing to be inconsistent…I think this also probably applies to a much wider context than startups: I think your success might be determined by how willing you are to be inconsistent.”

Klein’s suggestion is to “use the power of contradictions better.” Train yourself to trust your intuition and spot inconsistencies. Instead of dismissing confusion, contradictions and conflicts, give them some thoughts – “use them as springboards to insights…and employ the power of curiosity.” Your discovery may lead you to a breakthrough idea.

2. Connection, Coincidence or Curiosity


Whether it’s Isaac Newton’s infamous apple, Zuckerberg’s Facebook idea, or Charity: Water, the connection path is all about the missing links and swirling ideas. “The more swirl and turbulence, the greater the chance of discovery,” says Klein. It may lead to a billion-dollar start-up or the Nobel Prize. You choose.

Accidental discoveries are not magic at all. In fact, you have to “sit” on the problem for a while. Then a sudden trigger from a different industry or non-related field may lead to the “a-ha”. Back in 1988 when the work on sequencing and cloning green fluorescent protein (GFP) just started, Martin Chalfie, a Columbia University professor was working on DNA research. He was studying the nervous system of worms. On April 25, 1989, Chalfie decided to use his lunchtime productively – he attended a seminar on bioluminescent organisms organized by his department. Chalfie’s “a-ha” moment struck him when the speaker explained the ability of jellyfish to produce visible light. Then Chalfie suddenly realized that he could use GFP in his research. He could insert GFP into the transparent worms, shine ultraviolet light on it, and “look inside living organisms to watch their biological processes in action.” The rest is history – in 2008 Chalfie received the Nobel Prize.

Klein advises us to invest in increasing serendipitous experiences in our life so that we could spur the internal idea connection mechanism to a full extent. Think about it – whether you live in Beijing, Washington, DC or Prague, it’s in your power to try to meet with different kinds of people, engage in a variety of areas, learning all sort of new ideas. These experiences may become a “hive” to grow your big idea from. (And don’t forget to use your lunchtime hours creatively!)

Consider the story of Tillie O’Neal-Kyles, the founder of Every Woman Works. After her long career with AT&T, she managed her own business as an organizational and leadership consultant. However, there is more to life than business. O’Neal-Kyles wanted to help other people. Drawing from her own experience as a single mom, she wanted to help women “move from dependency to self-sufficiency.” She didn’t know how to begin.

And there was that call which changed everything. Yes, serendipity comes right on time. It was Lucy Hall, chief executive of Mary Hall Freedom House, one of the largest recovery centers for women and women with children in Atlanta. She was asking for help! Since that serendipitous moment, O’Neal-Kyles has helped over 1,400 women — from recovering substance abusers to those who have been homeless or sexually abused — learn life skills and get and keep jobs.

But remember, you can’t stand still – you have to nurture your idea, keep working on it. David Foster Wallace said it best: “Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.”

3. Creative Desperation



I like the name of the final trigger in Klein’s book – “creative desperation.” It seems that most writers and creative types are in a constant state of creative desperation. It’s that feeling when you’re trying to recall the name of that flower that you learned once when you were little while browsing Britannica. Now when you almost reached the top of Everest and see this exact flower, climbing the peak doesn’t make you happy anymore! Imagine this situation, but instead of the name of the flower, your idea is hatching.

Once we’re cornered, we usually begin to list our assumptions. Assumption one, assumption two, cross, cross, checkmark. Yet, the solution won’t come this way. A surprise or contradiction may help, writes Klein. In fact, he goes further by suggesting critical thinking, “a process of thinking that questions assumptions.” And when you’ve tried every avenue, you may decide to just pause right there.

Pause? While opinions about the value of incubation vary, research conducted by the Psychology Department at Texas A&M University showed that the idea incubation process increases our chances for insights.

In her example of 5-Step Technique for Producing Ideas Circa 1939 drawn from the book by James Young, Maria Popova refers to incubation as an “unconscious processing” stage where you should be making absolutely “no effort of a direct nature.” Allow your idea to hatch in the unconscious.

T.S. Eliot used it. Edison took naps. Poincaré went to a geological excursion to receive a mathematical discovery. Why not go for a jog or walk in the forest? (Shoveling might work if you’re in Washington, DC these days!)

Discover and Share: The World Needs Your Ideas Today

“Our insights transform us in several ways,” writes Klein. “They change how we understand, act, see, feel, and desire… Having an insight is an act of creation. Each insight is the creation of a new idea that didn’t exist before, often in opposition to defective ideas that formerly prevailed…The magic of insights stems from the force for noticing connections, coincidences, and curiosities; the force for detecting contradictions; and the force of creativity unleashed by desperation. That magic lives inside us, stirring restlessly.”

Naturally, you can find many other ways that you could draw out your ideas. The point is – no matter what idea search process you may choose, you should act on it today, because:

Your idea today can help your nonprofit to make a difference in your community.
Your idea today can inspire someone who needs it right now.
Your idea today can transform you.

“Never be afraid to do something new. Remember, amateurs built the Ark; professionals built the Titanic.” — Anonymous

Reignite Your Thinking: Pause. Observe. See.

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Biang

“Grasp the great symbol and all under heaven will come to you.” – Lao Zi

My Chinese language teacher taught me how to uncover the mysterious meanings of Chinese characters.

Look at the character carefully and take note of every detail, every stroke, he’d say. Then pause. Think freely. Find the root. Learn about its connections. Combine the elements in your imagination. Thus you will find one meaning. But then, continue. Imagine other possibilities. Try to look at this character as a whole and devour its distinct components. Each character depicts life in its very essence. It’s a reflection of life on the bottom of the brush. Each drop of ink creates a new connection. And so, you will find deeper meanings.

When you look at a Chinese character, you may see it in multiple ways: as a symbol, a metaphor, a mysterious representation of human thought, a simplistic view of reality or a word with some hidden meaning. Often it looks like a maze or a puzzle you want to untangle. Paradoxically, the deeper you go into the maze, the wider the range of possible routes out of it. And you never return the same. Each character seems to combine a multitude of qualities in one.

As stated in the Harbin Institute of Technology study on the connection between the Chinese characters and human conceptual thinking, “the structures and forms of the Chinese characters are an important source of evidence for what the human conceptual system is. The conceptual system is a matter of metaphor and the metaphors emerge from our physical or bodily experience and activities.” Character is based on analogy. In fact, analogy is “the most fundamental Chinese way of perceiving and thinking. It is analogy that allows human beings to use what they already know to provide understanding of what they do not know.”

Let’s look at the character at the beginning of the article. I bet it was one of the reasons you decided to read this.

As you may be aware, each Chinese character is a combination of strokes. To master the characters, one must learn the order and the direction of each individual stroke. Since ancient characters were based on true images and depicted what people saw, it’s fairly easy to guess the meaning of each character.

For example, try to guess the meaning of these:

They represent:

  1. Tree
  2. Big

How did you do? Was this an easy task for you?

If you look at the character 信 xìn, which means “truth”, “faith”, “sincerity,” it consists of its radical 亻ren which means “human” and 言 yán – “speech”. Would you understand its meaning knowing what each component means?

Not always. Let’s get back to our cover character. It is actually one of the most complex characters, Biáng and it is made up of 57 strokes and contains a whole house of characters, including horse, speak, grow, moon, knife, heart, roof and walk among others. Biáng originated from Shaanxi province and is used to describe biangbiang noodles, a distinctive dish of wide, flat noodles.

Noodles? Really? Here the answer lies in not knowing all the pieces, but in seeing the larger context.

Yet, you may ask, what does this all have to do with thinking?

We often forget that our life looks more like Chinese characters than a logical chain of events. When we learn to find the root, combine the elements and create the right analogy, we start to see what others might not. This brings us to the power of observation and systems thinking, the true magical element of powerful thinking.

In his bestselling book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman discusses two prevalent ways of thinking, System 1 (quick, automatic, effortless, implicit and emotional) and System 2 thinking (logical). Most people I know use System 1 thinking far more regularly than System 2 thinking. Why? Because it’s easier, it works, and it’s reliable. Kahneman introduces the new term WYSIATI, “what you see is all there is,” the faulty assumption that there is nothing else to see except for what is in plain sight. Or is there?

Enter Max Bazerman, codirector of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Straus Professor at Harvard Business School, with his latest book, “The Power of Noticing.” Bazerman argues that in today’s world, the “noticer” or observerthe person who sees the most details and can best decipher anomalies –is the most powerful person.

Why do we constantly miss disasters even when the information is in plain sight? Bazerman refers to the infamous Sandusky case, the “Challenger” tragedy, and Enron’s and Madoff’s dramatic fiascos that could have been averted.

Why do we fail to see the gorilla in the room?

Simply because we don’t pay attention to the details. Or, we see them too closely to really notice them…we are “insiders.” This is the difference between an insider’s and outsider’s points of view.

Sometimes you need to become an alien, an outsider and throw away all preconceived notions. Kahneman notes that the “insider tends to view a given situation as unique, while the outsider is more capable of generalizing across situations.” Further, “taking an outsider’s perspective on a problem allows us to notice a broader set of relevant information.”

Indeed, noticing is an integral part of systems thinking. Gary Bartlett from Prodsol International notes in his study, “systemic thinking enables us to deal with the elements of a situation in concert rather than in isolation. Its power lies in its simplicity and effectiveness. It offers the potential to find systemic focus in any situation. It enables us to secure the dramatic benefits promised by the systems thinking revolution. The beauty of it is that anyone can use it to gain deeper insight about anything. The primary barrier to overcome is the cognitive dissonance that arises from searching for something before you know what it looks like – especially when you aren’t even certain it’s there.”

How Do You Develop Systems Thinking?

“Find repeating patterns,” advises Bartlett, “and do it deliberately and systematically.” As Bartlett points out, “systemic problem solving is different. It doesn’t define the problem narrowly, but systemically. In other words, it helps one define one’s frame of reference (the box, mindset or management paradigm) clearly, thereby creating a freedom that ignoring that frame of reference can never create.”

For example, here is how Bartlett describes one of his techniques, which you can practice on any issue:

  1. List elements (of the pattern you’re looking for – or any elements if you don’t know what you’re looking for)
  2. Find common themes across the elements (similarity between two elements is a lot easier that similarity across a large number of elements)
  3. Find the repeating pattern across the common themes.

Simple? Steve Jobs once noted that “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

So unless you deliberately push yourself into this path, it won’t come as a given.

In fact, systems thinkers must develop particular “habits,” or specific ways to approach challenges and situations. The Waters Foundation, which actively supports systems thinking in schools, created a list of 13 habits. These habits of systems thinkers include: considering long and short-term consequences of actions; recognizing there might be unintended consequences to your actions; identifying the circular nature of complex cause and effect relationships; and looking at things from different angles and perspectives.

Systems thinking provides us with a new lens to glean the meaning of events happening in the world.

3 Challenges to Your Thinking Success

Even if we’re excited to get our new systems thinking in place, we are faced with three enormous hurdles. They are time, information overload and bad habits. Well, no one needs any explanation about time. But let’s look at the other two.

It’s alarming to observe that in the world where information has become so abundant, a whole generation of people is beginning to lose focus on what is most important. With few exceptions, educators fail to emphasize the need for critical and systems thinking. The minutiae of the moment become the king. The Apple watch and other wearable technology are about to gain yet another foothold into our inner world. When enough is enough?

The paradox of Apple, Samsung, Tesla and other technology innovation leaders is that the very geniuses behind them use systems thinking to create irresistible consumer products which make us forget about thinking and delve into consumption. I am no technology Luddite, but the reality is that without the discipline and hygiene of thought consumption, we’re at risk of losing our most powerful tool – the ability to think. And then how are we going to be better than machines?

Studies have shown that our brain’s attention span has significantly dropped. In his article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Nicholas Carr, the technology writer and bestselling author, writes: “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think.”

As I’ve been writing this, my brain has sent me numerous urgent signals to check my smartphone. I’m resisting, but not for long. The problem is that our brains have acquired a habit, or better put, an addiction. Now you may disagree and call it a compulsive reaction or habit. Yet, as Shelly DeBois asserts in her Fortune Magazine article, “the difference between an addiction and other kinds of compulsive behavior, loosely, is that addictions cause people do something compulsively even though it’s detrimental to their lives.”

According to Judson Brewer, the medical director at the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, smartphone addiction works the same way as slot machine gambling – through an associative learning pathway. Every jackpot or email message buzz, or any other “intermittent reward” you receive, makes your brain feel awesome and is imprinted into your memory. The expectation or craving for another creates a powerful combination that’s hard to beat.

What You Can Do Today to Take Back Your Thinking Life?

It’s maddening that we waste so much time today, but it will be worse tomorrow. Here are some simple steps to get back to your very core of being human again.

1. Bring White Space Into Your Life

Just like a good text page needs a white space for better viewing, your mind needs some space to begin using those brain muscles. Identify some intervals in your daily schedule to regain your independence from the digital world. You will feel free, I promise.

2. Control Your Email Consumption

Yes, there is life after email! Schedule your email time. Tim Ferriss, the author of the “Four Hour Workweek,” suggests not even checking email until 11 a.m. Regardless of the schedule, set one, and keep it. It’s easier said than done, and your dopamine doses are highly dependent on that desperate press of a smartphone button. Yet, if you are slave to your email box, there is no chance that you can deliver a super performance.

3. Reflect

If you want to understand the world better, begin with yourself. Reflection is the best tool to explore your inner self. Find 10 minutes a day to jot down some thoughts that have been on your mind lately. They needn’t be profound, but the more you reflect and write, the more understanding you’ll gain of yourself.

Now: Pause. Observe. See.

Frijof Capra, a brilliant physicist and philosopher fascinated by Eastern philosophy, produced the breathtaking book The Tao of Physics, which provides a stunning exploration of the links between Western and Eastern thought.

Capra was impressed at how scientists in two different worlds arrived at the same conclusions via radically different approaches. More than anything, Capra noted that just by using deep thinking and observation, ancient Chinese scientists saw the same picture of the universe that Capra and his team came up with centuries apart.

Perhaps we need to follow this example. Turn off your smartphone. Pause for a minute, observe the universe around you and see something that you’ve never seen before.

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