Mick Ebeling was successful by every measure. His career was solid and his work was recognized around the world. While his commercial success paid the bills, his soul longed for more. What if he could solve problems that others labeled 'impossible' in order to end suffering around the world? What if he could deploy his creative gifts to help a deaf singer 'hear' music again, a child without arms care for himself, or a paraplegic man create art?
Not Impossible Labs started in 2011 when animator-turned-philanthropist Mick Ebeling learned about graffiti artist TEMPT's harrowing battle with ALS. Unable to speak or use his arms, TEMPT had been communicating for 7 years by blinking when someone pointed to individual letters on paper. Ebeling called together some friends, determined to find a solution.
And they did. The result was the Eyewriter--an $8 pair of glasses, with some wires and cameras taped to it. But this cheap, makeshift rigging came with incredible computer code, which translated pupil movement to a screen, and allowed TEMPT to draw for the first time in seven years. Ebeling realized they were doing something big, and they had to keep going. Not Impossible Labs was born, and the world has been a better place ever since.
(TEMPT and a newer model of the Eyewriter. Photo Credit: eyewriter.org)
"If I could have died, I would have. I'm now going to be such a burden to my family."
These words are themselves heartbreaking, even more so because they were spoken by Daniel, who was only 14 years old.
His words moved the team at Not Impossible Labs to begin their next project--to make an arm for Daniel, a double-amputee who is one of more than 50,000 people who have suffered amputation because of the war in the Sudan.
After failed prototypes, face-offs with armed militants, and being plagued by the unpredictable challenges of the remote Sudanese desert, it finally happened. Not only did they build an arm for Daniel, but they left the medical staff with the knowledge and 3D printers to make more prosthetics.
They've made one arm per week ever since.
(Daniel and Ebeling. Photo credit Not Impossible Labs)
Ebeling and the Not Impossible team have done incredible things; they have breathed new life into potentially mundane and simplistic tools. As Ebeling puts it, they are committed to "technology for the sake of humanity." But you don't need to be an animator, engineer, or computer programmer to follow Not Impossible's lead. Their real magic lies in the intersection of rejecting limits and harnessing unorthodox, creative approaches to the world's most pressing problems.
"What if nothing is impossible?"
This is the question that Mick and his team are asking you to consider. Once more....What if nothing is impossible?
Ebeling reminds us that everything in history was impossible at one point, until someone did it. How would things change for your team or business, your family or community, if every obstacle that presented itself was surmountable? This mental shift may take some effort, but instead of saying something is impossible, start asking how it could be possible. So how do you turn your mountains into molehills? Keep it simple with these 3 steps:
1) Commit first, then figure it out.
This is the mantra at Not Impossible, and it has to be when your daily work is making the impossible possible. But it also works on smaller challenges--taking on a major project at work, hosting a fundraiser, or running a half-marathon. Commit first, before you know your path to a successful outcome. Instead of feeling restrictive, this commitment becomes liberating. It allows you to then direct every ounce of your being into driving the results you seek. Your motivation will increase exponentially and inspire you to think of more innovative solutions.
2) Surround yourself with people that make you feel stupid.
This seems counterintuitive. For most of us, being around smarter or more experienced people is intimidating. We may pretend we understand because we're afraid of asking a stupid question. But learning should never be embarrassing. If you're the "dumbest person in the room," you can only gain. Go out of your comfort zone, whether it's networking with advanced professionals in other industries or taking a class on something that you know nothing about. Ask questions; show your eagerness to learn. You never know how this knowledge may help you later. Build your team with those that make you look dumb, and you'll be the 'smart' one at the end of the day by savoring a most satisfying victory.
3) Help one, help many.
Whether it's helping all the amputees in the Sudan or resolving issues in our communities, major problems often seem so daunting that they become paralyzing. The enormity of the problem can overwhelm us to a point that we can't see a way through, or worse, we give up.
If you want to help amputees, you don't focus on helping all of them. You start with one; you help Daniel. Then you share what you know, and get others to help. Starting with a single deaf singer and helping her "feel and hear" music again through a series of electrical sensors led them to an innovation that can scale to others.
Not Impossible works because people are willing to take their skills and tools and create completely new ways to use them. They break open their assumptions about how skills, tools, tech, and resources are 'supposed' to be used.
The next time you're facing a challenge, opportunity, or threat, push yourself to discover the "impossible" solution. The approach that makes history. The idea that shatters conventional wisdom. We all have the power to reimagine what's possible. It's both our job and our duty to do just that. In doing so, you'll not only make the world a better place, the commercial success you seek will manifest as a byproduct.
Impossible is for everyone else. For your competition. For the also-rans. For you, just like Mick, it's all about the possibilities.