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Out Of The Ordinary

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I remember reading Phoebe Gilman's award winning children's book "Something from Nothing" to my three children. It is a great book that Gilman herself describes as a story adapted from an old Jewish folksong about a tailor who makes his old coat into a jacket, vest and tie, and finally a button. When the button is lost, he makes a song up about it all." In the story, as the various items wear down, they are renewed through the vision and a labour of a loving grandfather tailor who sees not waste in the diminished garments, but instead the emergence of new potential. He truly makes something from nothing over and again.

Gilman's work -as supported by the accolades and awards- is a rather extraordinary story. And yet, what does it mean to be extraordinary?

On some level, I think we are all looking to lead extraordinary lives, but is the extraordinary something that magically appears or does it emerge out of the ordinary?

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, Gladwell studies many stories of success and finds that while natural ability or skill are important factors in determining our path in life, extreme amounts of concentrated practice (10,000 hours) and happenstance simultaneously play very powerful roles in defining our success. In a way, Gladwell suggests that repetition (likely often mundane) and random advantages seem to account for a significant portion of the reason for disproportionate success in the lives of many individuals.

On Gladwell's theme, I have always found that my best ideas emerge in idle, unfocussed or mindless moments:an illuminated insight that comes to me while sitting in a coffee house, or the creative impulse that strikes while I am swimming laps, or the epiphany that hits in the middle of the night, all emerge out of the ordinary, or out of stillness or repetition.

I think of the Boeing Moonshine Shop case as one powerful 'out of the ordinary' professional success stories. In the Boeing case, a group of creative individuals were freed from their normal duties to work on a team challenged to make something useful from the waste and scrap from Boeing's manufacturing processes. In addition, they were provided with no additional resources - beyond their own ingenuity, of course.

What these teams created was nothing short of incredible. They ended up creating some of the most profitable and effective innovations at Boeing by making creative use of the "useless" waste that would have otherwise found itself in the trash. They created something extraordinary out of the ordinary. Imagine if every organization implemented such an "extraordinary" strategy.

I wonder what extraordinary opportunities we might walk by every day that just require us to look more deeply or might challenge us to see the potential hiding in the mundane. What might we learn if we look for the ordinary/extraordinary in each other? What might emerge if "out of the ordinary" became our rallying cry? Perhaps more distinctiveness and less waste. Perhaps something...extraordinary.