One of the concepts that William Duggan explores in The Seventh Sense: How Flashes of Insight Change Your Life is presence of mind. Given that we are nearing the NBA finals, we thought we would excerpt the section in which Duggan explains how presence of mind improved Kobe Bryant’s jump shot:
Presence of mind means that all the elements of your idea are open to alteration, all the time. You ask yourself every morning: Is there something I need to add, subtract, or change? The answer is probably no. But if you don’t ask, you’ll miss that rare time when the answer is yes. Changing your idea every day is bad—you’ll never get anywhere. But staying open every day to changing your idea—that’s essential to presence of mind.
Here’s a recent example of presence of mind and how it can help you stay alert to examples from history from far afield. Kobe Bryant, one of the most successful basketball players of all time, told this story in an interview in September 2014 in the New York Times. He spoke about his fadeaway shot, where you jump up and backward, away from your opponent in front of you. The usual way to do it is to jump with both legs together, so your body is perfectly straight, leaning back. Bryant explained:
When you watch me shoot my fadeaway jumper, you’ll notice my leg is always extended. I had problems making that shot in the past. It’s tough. So one day I’m watching the Discovery Channel and see a cheetah hunting. When the cheetah runs, its tail always gives it balance, even if it’s cutting a sharp angle. And that’s when I was like: My leg could be the tail, right? Inspiration surrounds us.
What amazing presence of mind. He was watching a nature program to relax, not for research. But relaxing helped, so his mind was free and open. Bryant saw the cheetah using its tail for balance when cutting left or right, and applied that to his own movement in a different direction: backward. And this example highlights again the difference between the sixth sense and the seventh.
Professional athletes like Bryant have tremendous intuition from long hours of practice and many, many games played. His sixth sense helps him do the same move better next time. But only his seventh sense can give him a new move.
Presence of mind is hard to achieve and sustain, so you can’t expect other people to have it. When you tell someone else your new idea, the most common reaction is for them to tell you their own ideas on the topic. That’s because everyone puts a tremendous amount of conscious and unconscious thought into their own ideas. Think of it this way: someone has worked long and hard on building a house. You come along and say you’re going to knock down their house and build them a better one. How do they react? They defend their house. They tell you it’s better than the one you aim to build. They don’t want to admit that all their hard work has gone to waste. And you’re not just criticizing their house, you’re criticizing them: you’re telling them they don’t know how to build a good house.
The mistake here is simple but deep: people take their ideas personally. If my idea is not worthy, then I’m not worthy. Especially at work, and especially if I’m the boss: the company promoted me because I’m an expert. I know the right answers. If someone else comes up with a different idea, and it’s right, then I don’t deserve to be boss. Especially if that person reports to me. Then they deserve to be boss instead. But that can’t be right. So their idea can’t be right.