TEDxUCLA 2012: Open

Do you have something in mind?


About C. Scott

C. Scott Hindell is Principal of Hindell Consulting where he specializes in human-centered business model design. His key role is to facilitate, for business and industry, the process of generating, developing and articulating innovative value strategies. Scott also has been teaching since 1987, and currently teaches a variety of course titles and subjects for UCLA Extension (since 2001), as well as custom programs and workshops for businesses and organizations.


You’re here today being exposed to a lot of new ideas, ideas that could transform the world. By the very nature of attending an event like this, it’s likely that you’ll be more creative by being exposed to these ideas.

Here you get exposed to experts that have charted the unknown and give you examples of where it could lead. As an instructor, I have a similar audience of creatives and many of my students have been extremely creative.

But I kept encountering a problem with many of them over and over that perplexed me. They bought into the ideas of innovating value that I was sharing with them, but when it came time to innovating, they struggled. Sure, they could come up with innovative ideas by using tools and/or combining different approaches in a unique novel way, but the ideas were generally derivative.

So why were they having such a hard time coming up with transformative ideas while others weren’t?

So I thought to myself, wait a second. These students are arguably the best part of the choir. They understand the importance of innovation. They’re extremely devoted to its cause. They’re some of the best at spreading the word. Why isn’t this happening for them?

I don’t believe in the old adage, “Great innovators are born and cannot be created, so are made.” So I played with this problem, I examined my students much closer, and I was surprised when I discovered something.

We’re a culture that loves tools, methods, rules, formulas, systematic approaches to solving problems. And schools and experts love to give us these ways of doing things, as we know. Just across the campus here, engraved above the Royce Hall stage are the following words: “Education is learning to use the tools which the race has found indispensable.”

So these students can easily be considered highly intelligent. They’ve excelled at school and work by acquiring and using these tools. They’re successful by most people’s measure. But here, they’re still struggling coming up with innovative ideas.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Tools are great, and they certainly have an important place. But tools by their very nature are linear, meaning they always relate to something. Tools are good for producing derivative ideas.

But can there be a tool for discovering transformative ideas? Ideas that radically alter the way we do things for the better?

So I began to see another common thing within my students. They all had a similar question for me: “What should I Google when gathering my materials? Do you have a tool or method to help me find that?”

I finally could see it. To find something, we have to have an idea of what it is we’re looking for. These students relied heavily on a way to find something. What they didn’t realize is that their pursuit to seek out ideas was denying their idea the full potential.

Tools, or the mechanized thinking they were using, were putting them out of touch with the extraordinary power of their instinct. Their brain had become disassociated and driven towards something. I needed them to let go, to learn how to wander around more.

Einstein’s a great example of this. In the beginning of the 20th century, Lorentz and Poincare essentially had come up with everything they needed to know to discover the theory of relativity way before Einstein did. Einstein actually worked on it for over four years before discovering it. He actually became so frustrated, or struggled so much, that he came to believe, came to believe it was preventing him from succeeding professionally.

And one day, on a walk with his best friend Besso to the Swiss patent office, he said, “I’m going to give it up.” Well, as we all know, it wasn’t Lorentz or Poincare but Einstein who had discovered the theory of relativity. It was five weeks after that walk that he discovered it and published a paper that transformed the world.

What changed? Einstein was able to let go of it. What was it? Einstein, Lorentz, Poincare, and the whole world of physics were trying to preserve everything they knew to be true, which in this case was Newtonian physics, while trying to discover their idea of it. Einstein was the one who was finally able to let go of it.

Methods and tools often give us derivative ideas. We tend to design from the inside out when actually it’s the other way around. from the outside in. Instead of define then see, we should learn how to see then define.

What those students needed to learn was how to let go of everything, to learn how to wander around more and be more mindful of what they grab onto and whether or not they get to hang on to that.

So I have to ask you today: Do you have something in mind? Let go. Learn how to wander around more, and be more mindful of what you grab onto, including today. And if you do this, I believe you can truly create a transformative idea. Thank you.