This week’s theme has been “inventing the future” … it’s been cropping up at every turn. I spent a full-day early in the week with a group from a client company, helping them navigate from a powerful past, through a treacherous present, to create an even more powerful future.  I spoke with three prospective clients, each of whom is a business owner who wants to create a future for his business over the next few years that will allow him to pursue important life goals.  And, I ran three CEO workshops, between California and Texas, in which “Invent Your Future – Now!” was a major theme.

The entire week came together for me early this evening, on a flight from Dallas to Miami.  Due to a faulty hydraulic valve on the airplane, we took off two hours late, giving me a 50/50 chance of missing my connecting flight to Grand Cayman. After take off, as I was wondering if I would make the connecting flight, I thought of Shrodinger’s Cat. In 1935, physicist Erwin Shrodinger wanted to illustrate the bizarre implications of something called “quantum superpositions.”  Quantum physics posits that all possible states for a system exist simultaneously until they collapse into one state at the moment of measurement or observation.  Shrodinger used the following story to describe how strange this is: Imagine a cat inside a box, along with a small amount of radioactive substance, a Geiger counter, an electrical relay, a hammer and a vial of cyanide.  There is a 50/50 chance that one subatomic particle will be emitted in the course of one hour, setting off the Geiger counter, relay and hammer, shattering the cyanide and killing the cat. You don’t know which of the equal probabilities exists, living cat or dead cat, until you open the box. So, before you open the box, is the cat dead or alive?  Both dead and alive, says quantum physics.  The cat doesn’t settle into one state until you open the box.  All probabilities exist, until the observer’s observation causes one state to manifest itself. Pretty strange, eh? (One basic example from quantum physics can help us understand the powerful role of the observer:  You can’t measure both the position and speed of a particle at one time, because your measurement of one parameter affects the other.  Observation is not passive; we affect reality when we observe.)

Applied to my situation, which I pondered at 35,000 feet, Shrodinger’s Cat implies that I was both catching my flight and not catching my flight. Huh? How could that be true? Would my observation of the situation really have a bearing on the eventual outcome, on which of the possible states actually comes to be? How could it?  This is a tough concept!

Then, I pulled a DVD out of my briefcase to watch on the fight.  On recommendation from a friend, I had rented the 2004 film,“What the Bleep Do We Know?” not really aware of the topic of the movie. This is an amazing film. It starts with a very accessible description of quantum physics, described by a group of perspicuous experts, and then, through a dramatic narrative starting Marlee Matlin, shows how this theory of multiple probabilities plays itself out in our lives. There are an infinite number of possible futures for each of us, so how do we settle on one?  Through an equally accessible description of biochemistry, the What the Bleep group of experts show how our brains manufacture chemicals, millions of times every second, that create the reality of our lives. For example, if we have a victim story going on in our minds, we will produce chemicals that addict us to the feeling of victimhood, and cells throughout our body will go through physiological changes that make them crave this victim chemical, shutting out other chemicals, such as nutrients.  The victim complex, in this example, actually turns one into more of a victim. Of an infinite number of possible life scenarios, the victim changes his physiology to create a reality of victimhood.  I suddenly understood the sea-change I have created for myself, over the past few years, in how I handle anxiety.  I have learned, thankfully, to produce chemicals in my brain that stop the feeling of “The sky is falling!” and, instead, tell myself that life is pretty wonderful. Of many possible life-states, I chose one.

So, back to Shrodinger’s cat. Was I missing my Miami flight and catching it, both at the same time? Yes. “What?” you ask?  How could that be?  Quantum theory says that all  probabilities exist until the observer observes. I accepted, sitting on this American Airlines 757 somewhere above the Gulf of Mexico, that both of these realities existed, and I let my observer perspective determine the single outcome I wanted. Of course, I couldn’t influence American Airlines to hold the flight to Grand Cayman for me. But, instead of letting the situation dictate my mood, as I would have done in the past (make the flight = happy, miss the flight = pissed off), I decided to “be chill.”  I recognized that there were a near-infinite number of possible scenarios for the rest of my day, and I chose one.  By actively deciding how I would react to the situation – what chemicals my brain would release – I, as the observer, determined the outcome. No matter whether the cat was dead or alive, or, in my case, if the flight was waiting or had departed, I would feel the same.  Both states were equal.  Right now, I am sitting in the Sofitel Hotel by the Miami Airport as a “distressed passenger,” with no change of clothes or power cord for my phone. I am as calm as I would be if I were sitting in the lobby bar of the Westin Grand Cayman (where I was supposed to be by now).

In “What the Bleep,” physicist Amit Goswami says, “To acknowledge the place where you have choice is to be enlightened.”  A very important lesson as you invent the future of your business.

There are an infinite number of possible futures for your business. At every point in time, one of those futures will have manifested itself.  You – yes, you – will determine that outcome. Whether you are one employee at a 30,000 person company, or a sole proprietor, your actions will determine the exact future your business finds itself in at any point in time.  It can’t be any other way; you are not a passenger, you are a creator.

So why not choose the best possible future for your company? Why not acknowledge what you can choose, and what you cannot choose, and choose to create the best possible future you can for your company?

You cannot choose for the economy to improve, just like I could not choose for American Airlines to stall the departure of my connecting flight.  But there are many things you can choose.  You can choose to focus on certain business outcomes, and not others.  You can choose to focus on certain customers, and not others.  You can choose how you allocate your time and resources.  You can choose how you interact with customers.  You can choose the behavior you model for the people who work for you.  You can choose to ignore your competitors and focus on addressing the challenges within your company that influence your performance much more than the damage a competitor can do.

Pre-dating Shrodinger by 94 years, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the following in his 1841 essay, Self-Reliance: “The picture waits for my verdict.”  You can choose which of an infinite number of possibilities will happen.  Be enlightened.  Acknowledge the place you have choice, and then choose to create your best future.

Invent your future – now.


  • Arun Basil Lal
    Sep 13, 2009 - 09:00 am

    Hey, that was good reading. I found the paragraphs a bit long. It would have been better if you had shortened it up.

    Maybe this will come handy –


    • Steve Yastrow
      Sep 13, 2009 - 23:11 pm

      Thanks Arun. Always looking for suggestions – much appreciated. Some the paragraphs were pretty long. But, I’m not sure I agree with the premise of the article you sent. If the last sentence of a paragraph could be deleted, it should be deleted. I think a paragraph should work as a whole.

      Scaling down from paragraphs … Here’s an interesting take on the length of sentences: A fabulous course from the Teaching Company, which cautions us from the reflexive, expected teaching that you should remove words from your sentences. Professor Brooks Landon shows how to build cumulative sentences that communicate more, and more effectively.

  • Clemens Rettich
    Sep 13, 2009 - 13:10 pm

    Another thoughtful piece Steve.

    Although I was not comfortable with all of the content of *What the Bleep* and the theoretical structure that underpins it (largely the content of the book *The Secret*) there are parts of it that are powerful. You nailed the core of it: we can choose each moment how to act.

    There are so many linguistic theories and so much neurological research that reminds us that the realities we inhabit are reflexive, transactional, and circular. Our states of mind shape our words, but our words also shape our states of mind. We smile when we are happy, but research shows that choosing to smile has a positive effect at the neuro-chemical level. Our words and actions shape us as we shape them. And that only speaks to ‘closed’ system of our own selves… it doesn’t even touch on our interactions with our customers and employees, friends and family, etc.

    All of this is why in my practice, I am so insistent that a meaningful, from-the-core, mission statement is such a powerful and necessary element in our businesses and lives: done right, it is the values-anchor we can turn to as we are faced with those moment-to-moment decisions. Each choice we make either reflects and embeds our mission, or it deviates from it and undermines it. For me, it is the business version of the ‘old school’ moral compass.

    Thanks for another well-written piece and the chance to reflect.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Sep 13, 2009 - 23:13 pm

      Clemens – I haven’t read The Secret … I’ll admit that the things I heard about it turned me off. But, what I heard didn’t seem nearly as interesting as What the Bleep, and didn’t have the scientific references. Am I wrong?

  • Amanda Cullen
    Sep 14, 2009 - 14:50 pm

    Thanks for the compelling post, Steve. I also try to think positively and believe that affects the outcomes of my actions. Nice to read some insight into the behavior.

    Oh, and hope you made it to the Caymans okay!

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