HOLLYWOOD, Calif.–The device you are reading this on right now is limiting your ability to wonder, to ask questions, and, ultimately, to lead your organization or team to success, according to one person who spends much time wondering and who reminded that it was “fact” once that the earth was flat, because that’s what the data showed.
Jason Latimer, a magician, illusionist and scientist who is the curator of Impossible Science at the Fleet Science Center in San Diego and who holds degrees in a number of fields, used a fast-moving and entertaining combination of magic and science to emphasize his point that the world isn’t shaped by answers, it's shaped by questions, and the credit union leaders are likely not asking the right ones.
“I have found the right question changes everything,” Latimer said in opening the California and Nevada CU Leagues’ REACH Conference here.
Latimer said he has dedicated his life to trying to figure out what is possible, not impossible, and he challenged credit unions to do the same.
Changing the World
“Wonder change the world,” observed Latimer. “It’s the ability to see beyond answers that is behind every change in history. We have been born with the ability to wonder, but when was the last time you recall putting that ability to use? For most of us it’s been a long time. We spend a lot of time reinforcing every fact we know.”
That tendency, especially as one gets earlier, to reinforce what we know is what the physicist Stephen Hawking called the “illusion of knowledge.” Hawking famously observed, “The greatest enemy of knowledge isn’t ignorance, it’s the illusion of knowledge.”
“We have convinced ourselves we know the rules,” said Latimer, who interspersed his presentation with a wide variety of “magic” tricks he said weren’t really magic at all, ranging from passing through a solid mirror to card tricks to turning light into a solid object. “Everything you will see today didn’t happen until someone wondered if you could. I want you to ask the questions. One question could change everything.”
There is No Rulebook
There is no “rulebook” to be followed, according to Latimer, so nothing can be ruled out.
“Magicians don’t have different rules than you and me; what they have is knowledge,” he told the meeting. “What they have is understanding. Think of it this way: flight was always possible, but it didn’t happen until someone asked a question about lift.”
Latimer urged his credit union audience to always be in a state of wonder, as it’s wonder that allows someone to have an “idea before an outcome. It allows us to dream of tomorrow. Why is wonder so important? In this day and the age we need to see beyond the illusion of knowledge more than ever before.”
According to Latimer, who represented the United States at the world Championship of Magic competition in the Netherlands, the greatest magician of all time was Albert Einstein. He quoted Einstein’s observation that “Those who attempt the absurd achieve the impossible. The key word is ‘attempt.’”
The Paradox of Information
What is restraining credit union leaders and leaders of all types today from exercising their states of wonder or asking the right question is the nearly ubiquitous access by everyone to information—although whether it’s really “information” is often open to change.
“Access to information has undermined wonder,” said Latimer. “We search a question, get an answer and move on and no one challenges it, no one questions it. We’ve gotten complacent because of the Internet. Where is the wonder in the Age of Information?
“It’s a good question, right?” he continued. “Where is the wonder that is going to change the world? We have more information at our fingertips now than questions in our heads. I want you to see beyond the illusion of knowledge in Age of Information. Don’t forget we gave the Internet its answers. In a game when the most popular wins with the most views or clicks, there is a flaw. When does a revolutionary idea ever start out popular? No one ever clicks on the bottom, so we click on the lead answer and with every iteration we can reinforce the wrong idea.”
Outside That Box
Credit unions are frequently urged by conference speakers to recognize the importance of thinking “outside the box,” but the real problem is that many of the pieces needed to ask new questions and find new answers are so far outside the box “we rule them out.”
“I’m here to remind you that if you look at the history of knowledge we’ve been pretty good at being wrong,” said Latimer, who randomly chose audience members to participate in various magic displays by using a t-shirt cannon. “We thought the earth was the center of the universe and it was fact, until someone questioned it. We though the atom was the smallest particle in the universe, until someone questioned that. If you look at the history of knowledge, it’s the individuals who challenge the facts who change the world.”
To really separate the possible from the impossible, said Latimer, requires leaders who will ask how and why.
“There is no reason the next question can’t come from any of us,” Latimer said. “We weren’t wrong to think the world was flat it was just that our data was limited. So how do we know our data isn’t still limited? The fact is, we don’t.”