I recently heard a story about a tribe of indigenous people who had been completely isolated from society in the mountain jungles of their country. When first contact was made, the mayor of the local city invited the leaders from the tribe to visit the city and see how different things were now.


The mayor was bursting with pride and excitement helping them “discover” modern technologies: skyscrapers, airplanes, computers, and on and on.


After an amazing couple days of mutual discovery, the mayor and a few reporters traveled back with them to their village. Once there, they were treated with amazing hospitality learning many new customs.


As the mayor and her contingency prepared to leave, she asked their leader, “Of all the amazing things you experienced for the first time, what one thing are you most excited to bring back to your village?”


The leader turned to his people posing the question. After a bit of animated discussion among his people, he turned back to the mayor with his answer.


Mobile phones? Motor vehicles? Electricity? Nope.


The leader excitedly exclaimed, “the wheelbarrow!!”


You see the people of that village used an exorbitant amount of time and energy carrying heavy loads on their shoulders and backs to maintain their community, leaving them with little capacity for anything but survival. Now, the wheelbarrow…that is a technology that would transform their entire existence.


Famed science fiction author Arthur C Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”


I find myself and my company routinely peddling “technology” but my employees and customers only see inaccessible “magic”. We’re advocating for autonomous delivery trucks with sophisticated distribution networks…when all they can absorb is a wheelbarrow.


In his book, “Where Good Ideas Come From”, Steven Johnson popularized a theory from biology called the Adjacent Possible. Johnson postulates that “at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen”. 


Those certain changes can only happen if a previous set of foundational ideas or changes are already in place. Change can only happen one step removed from the current state.


We’ve all heard the mournful stories of visionary businesses going bankrupt because they were just “ahead of their time”. Those leaders did not abide by the one-step-removed principle of the adjacent possible, trying to go multiple rungs up the ladder all at once…leaving them in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the ladder.


I now experience a few triggers telling me when I need to reframe my thinking, strategy, and communication. The most blatant, ”they just don’t get how this could transform their business”. 


Maybe they do in fact need driverless cars, but I can’t hope or expect them to make that leap. At a minimum, I must reframe the discussion to the steps required to achieve that magical vision, but more likely, stay focused on what one-step in that direction looks like.


Where are you pushing “magic” to your employees and customers?

How can you change your approach to be one step from where they are instead of one step from where you think they could be?


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