The engineers from Bell Labs who designed the system and wrote the article didn’t see it. Thousands of engineers in the future would read that article and not see it. But 18-year-old Ralph Barclay did. The funny thing about it is, once the hole is explained to you, it’s obvious. But until it’s explained to you, most people would never think of it. Certain people have minds that are tuned in a particular way to see things like that. Ralph Barclay was one of those people. Phreaking Out Ma Bell. IEEE Spectrum, Feb 2013.
It was simple. I watched the senior analyst type in the password to her account. That it was an account at the National Security Agency was no big deal. It was clear that when I knew her password that I now had access to systems far in advance to what I could already access. My 19 year old curious mind immediately saw the implications and went into high speed imagining what I could do and find. The fact that this was clearly a security violation and could get this young Airman thrown into Fort Leavenworth prison barely registered as I realized all that I might now do.
Just seeing data or a situation is not enough. Our mind has to be looking for or open to new possibilities, even if they seem a bit larcenous. I’ve been trying to “beat the system” all my life, but not in order to profit by it but instead to realize all the additional possibilities that exist that others just don’t seem to see or even care to see.
In Zen meditation there is the notion that one can achieve supreme enlightenment just by sitting quietly and paying attention but only if one is seeking that supreme enlightenment. Just sitting alone quietly has all sorts of beneficial effects, but getting to that enlightenment requires that one be open to that possibility. The habits are the same but it is the mindset that is different and essential.
Too often we train people in various techniques to help us better solve the problems we are facing. I’ve seen organizations train everyone in Quality and Six Sigma and Project Management, Agile and Software Engineering, for example. The expectation is that by training folks in these disciplines we’ll suddenly see the advantages of people knowing and using these new skills. How often has that worked for your organizations? For mine, never.
See for example Don’t Get Everyone Project Management Certified
Instead, it was those folks who charged off on their own and learned tools and techniques without a top down mandate were the ones most often coming up with the new insights, that were only obvious, if they ever were, to us once they were pointed out to us.
So education and training is not enough if we want to spark innovation and initiative. We have to find or encourage folks to be on the lookout for new insights and opportunities. This generally means we have to encourage people to go beyond the system, the same system we work hard at getting them to follow, and find something different.
How are you helping yourself and your team to be open to new ideas and possibilities?