Think Differently

Keep an open mind. Keep asking why, and be open to change. Get a fresh set of eyes as often as you need them. Failing to do these means failing to solve the problems we face (large or small) and failing to reach our potential. The consequences may range from disastrous to astounding.

Seth Godin notes that Starbuck’s didn’t sell Espresso, hot coffee, Biscotti, Frappucino, or in fact most of what else on their menu when they started out… they worked their way up to 5 stores and 20 employees selling beans. I wonder how far outside Seattle they’d have made it on that strategy? There’s a lot to be said for flexibility, for being willing to change and adapt. It takes thinking differently.

A few years ago a young Canadian, Eva Vertes, discovered a compound that inhibits brain cell death. It was regarded as a step toward curing Alzheimer’s, and won her “Best in Medicine” at the International Science Fair — she was 17 at the time. Dubbed a microbiology prodigy, she’s now aiming to find better ways to treat — and avoid — cancer. She basically keeps asking “why” to questions to which others may have assumed the answers for years. When she asks some of these questions, her thinking is seen as radical. “If smoking can cause lung cancer, and drinking can cause liver cancer, is it possible that cancer is a direct result of injury? If so, could cancer be caused by the body’s own repair system going awry?” She says, “It’s almost as if the body has originated this ingenious response, but can’t quite control it. It hasn’t quite become fine-tuned enough to finish what has been initiated.”

Eva Vertes made the conference-closing presentation at TED 2005 (you can view her presentation online, and it’ll blow you away). Something tells me she’s one of our brightest hopes in the fight against cancer. In her presentation, she says, “I read that cancer in skeletal muscle is extremely rare… but it was left at that, no-one seemed to be asking why. So—I decided to ask why.” The responses were that it just didn’t seem a good target for cancer. Again she says, “So I decided to ask why.” And she’s decided to keep asking until she gets an answer. Her hypothesis, and her research suggests that there is cancer in these cells, but that it doesn’t metasticize… because in those cells, the body is able to control it. “Her approach marks an important shift in scientific thinking, looking in brand-new places for cancer’s cause — and its cure. Her ultimate goal, which even she calls far-fetched, is to fight cancer with cancer.”

Don’t assume you know the answer, and don’t be afraid to challenge old assumptions. Buck the trend, get your own answer. Think differently. Who knows what you’ll accomplish?