Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Making the Invisible Visible

Last night I was on a Southwest Airlines flight coming back from a week in Houston. I was tired. I put my head back and just closed my eyes. After I heard the clunk of wheels up, I looked over to see who I was sitting next to. He was a young man, maybe about 25 or so -- handsome kid. I found out later that he was from Thailand, going to school at UCLA. Anyway, he was typing furiously on his Apple Computer. I couldn’t help staring because everything on his screen was moving incredibly fast yet taking perfect form. It looked like he was writing a book, with charts, graphs and pictures. In fact, some of the charts, graphs and pictures seemed to have motion to them. “Interesting,” I thought.

“Are you writing a book? I asked.

"No,” he said, “I’m just putting in my notes from today’s meetings.”

“Interesting notes,” I said, motioning to the screen with the moving images.

“Yes, I’m working on a project that allows me to visualize virus particles.”

"Like I said, interesting."

"I'm working with a biologist at a Houston hospital. Would you like to see what virus particles look like?”

“Absolutely,” I said.

He turned the screen toward me and I watched, fascinated, as he continued to type in machine code of some sort. After a moment or two there was a visual of what looked like a smudge on the screen.

“Watch this,” he said with a smile on his face. He hit a key and the smudge turned into a donut-looking thing that had spinning particles, each distinct from one another, but held tightly within the donut. It looked like a miniature universe.

“With a special algorithm I am able to see these invisible particles on my computer screen. Cool, huh?”

“Very cool,” I said.

“My name is Peter,” he said, putting his hand out, “I’m a Ph.D. candidate in Physics at UCLA."

“Well, Peter, pleased to meet you, my name is Tom Voccola and it looks like we are in the same business.”

“Are you a physicist,” he asked.

“No,” I said, “but we’re both involved in making the invisible visible.” I don’t know why I said it, but there it was.

“Really, what things are you making visible?” he asked, closing his computer and shifting toward me with an air of curiosity.

All I had to do was recall the past few days in Houston and I said, “I work in business, Peter. I work with human beliefs, values, thoughts, visions, desires and emotions, to name just a few. These things are invisible to us until called into question, yet they operate in the world just as surely as a hammer when it hits a nail. We’re not aware of what these invisible human programs are going to be or when they will appear, but they do. And when they do they manifest themselves as human behaviors that affect the world just as surely as a virus does.”

“Fascinating,” he said. “Can you give me an example?”

“Perception is not reality.” I said.

“Pardon me; isn’t it supposed to be 'perception is reality'?”

“Yes, it is, but that’s precisely why we have so many problems in the world. We accept our perceptions, usually from our five senses, as reality. Before you guys in science began making the invisible visible we had no idea that there were germs or viruses. But now we know better. And now that we know these germs and viruses are real, people like you are trying to see more clearly how they operate and once you understand, well, I assume you will begin using nanotechnology to influence how they operate.”

“Exactly,” he said, “think of all the lives we can save?”

“I do,” I said, "and I truly appreciate it."

I am glad there are people like Peter in the world. His curiosity, talent and drive may save the world one day.

As leaders, the first step in being able to influence our lives, businesses and our families is to accept that there are indeed invisible forces at work – as essential as the food we eat -- yet with the same power and devastation as a bomb. What are the empowering beliefs or limiting beliefs, for example, that are running your business? With the awareness that our human internal operating system runs on beliefs comes the ability to see, to notice, and to observe them more clearly. Only then can you hope to consciously influence the outcome.

"Like I said, Peter, we're in the same business you and I. And it's good to know there are others engaged in changing the world by making the invisible visible."

1 comment:

Dawna Jones said...

Wonderful post Tom... love the particles... totally appeals to a geek like me so of I go now to check that out. As inspirator of my purpose statement: Mastering the Invisible I am Not surprised that you had this conversation. Thanks for your wonderful way of telling story and making a point!