Many years ago, when I worked in the apparel industry, the cutting tables were manned by stooped, wizened immigrants who perfected this skill like there was no tomorrow. These men with their sharp electric scissors, could move through bolts of expensive fabric flawlessly like salmon cutting through the river to spawn upstream.
Photo Credit: Volha Flaxeco
At the time, I had an old boss, Martin, who instructed me to stand in front of the cutting table with a stopwatch for long hours at a stretch, and time his cutters to see if there were any inefficiencies in that department. He felt that they were possibly cutting too slow. And as with any manufacturer, time is money. As an example, if a cutter cuts only 500 dresses a day versus 1,000 dresses — it doubles the cost of cutting per piece. Multiply that by many dresses and many days, and it can become a big number.
I have to tell you that I was uncomfortable with this concept at first because it felt like I was spying on them, even though I was just timing them and was going to report it as a whole and not individually. But I felt like they hated me for standing in front of them with a stopwatch and no one likes to be hated by their co-workers. Guess what though? When I timed them over a period of a few weeks, their speed increased by an average of 10%. They may have just tried harder, but my observation changed the result. And here is the best part. On average, their speed stayed at the new, increased rate.
Years later, I had started my own company — gardening not apparel — and spent seven months on and off in Chile. I had applied for and received a government grant to bring the Bloomers Island Schoolyard Program to South America. As it turns out, kids are unhealthier everywhere these days. It was a good move for me. I was burned out in Los Angeles and with my business there. I needed a change.
Chile is a long thirteen hour flight and four hours into a different time zone — the same as Nova Scotia — and of course it’s below the equator so the seasons are flipped. I felt like I had arrived at the end of the world and in a way, I had. I was studying Spanish on the side and it was fun to be immersed in the language. Most people there do not speak English and I had to use my budding Spanish skills to get by. I’m sure there are some cashiers in the local market who still harbor frustration with me.
Through a friend of a friend, I found a wonderful roommate, Natalie, to share her lovely two-bedroom condo for a modest payment. The condo was located in Vitacura — one of the nicest neighborhoods in Santiago. Every day I walked downtown to the shared working space I was able to use and then took a bus back to Vitacura. I took the bus everywhere. I was still a nine to fiver putting in at least eight hours a day.
Chile was a wonderful experience and I met other entrepreneurs there from all over the world who I still speak with today. I also traveled a bit for wine-tasting, to the beach — Valparaiso, tango dancing in Argentina, and hiking in Patagonia where I actually met Mr. Patagonia himself — Yvon Chouinard. I consider my trip to Patagonia to be one of my favorite trips of all time.
I also had the opportunity to work with five classrooms in Santiago as a part of the Bloomers Island Schoolyard Program which was incredibly rewarding. The kindergarteners volunteered to help me with my Spanish and they had their work cut out for them.
It happened that Natalie’s parents lived in another condo upstairs and while they were traveling much of the time that I was there, on one hot, windless, autumn day that year, I was lucky enough to be invited to lunch by them.
Her father is the Chilean physicist, Romualdo Tabensky, B.S. from Princeton. Ph.D. from Berkeley, who had worked on relativity. On the side, besides learning Spanish, I was researching quantum physics and its relation to manifestation in the hopes of improving my life. I was thrilled to ask him questions on the subject.
I asked him all about the double slit experiment, the recent discovery of gravity waves, parallel universes, quantum mechanics, the behavior of waves vs. particles, black holes, the size, start and expansion of the universe, the movie “Interstellar,” the possibility of time travel, and so much more.
I am going to talk about the things he explained to me over the next few weeks as a part of this series.
I found quantum physics to be a smoky secret of vast importance in my manifesting adventures. I’ll start with one of the quantum theories called, the observer effect. It suggests that reality is a kind of illusion and changes when we are observing it. An experiment by Australian scientists has proven that what happens to particles in the past is only decided when they are observed and measured in the present. Until they are observed, reality is just an abstraction.
According to Romualdo, there is an observer effect but it is a little different from how it is described above. The act of measuring something can change its expected outcome, not just the act of observing. Measuring particles going through a plate can change the pattern in which they hit a wall behind the plate; the particles can become waves as they embody that potential.
Can we change reality? I don’t know, but in the meantime, here is my interpretation:
Measuring things changes them. Information collection can be the single most powerful tool to change your life. Want to get your financial life into shape? Measure everything you spend your money on. Simply by virtue of the fact that you are measuring it … changes it.
One of the most powerful things that we can do to help us lose weight is to observe and measure, and keep an accounting of what we are eating. It has been proven over and over and over and over and over. The only way to lose weight after all is to eat less and/or exercise more. According to an article by Julia Belluz and Christophe Haubursin in Vox, it’s hard to create a significant calorie deficit through exercise, so eating less is the most important thing. And as human beings, we tend to underestimate how much we are eating. One serving of walnuts is ¼ cup and that is 200 calories. Do you know how much ¼ cup is? Not that much — about 8 or 10 walnuts.
Recently, I wanted to lose ten pounds. It doesn’t sound like much, but ten real pounds of fat is hard to lose. I downloaded a tracking app for my smartphone, Lose It, that measures and records all the food you eat.
I used it.
I made sure that I stayed within a certain amount of calories a day. Exercise definitely helped — it allowed me to eat a little more, but eating was the biggest element. Lose It is fantastic by the way — it works really well and I also use it to count my carbs since I’m a Type 1 Diabetic.
Measuring and observing helped me to cut back on things that were much higher in calories than I thought. But here’s the thing. I found that when I was keeping track of what I ate, I ate less. That’s the hidden value of the observer effect. I lost the ten pounds. It took three months, and I am holding steady seven months later.
Matter (my body in this case) can exist as either a particle, or a wave. A particle is generally described as fixed in time and place. A wave is not fixed; it’s fluid and has many possibilities. Think of a particle like a stone. And think of a wave like a rope that you are swinging. It is moving up and down and at any moment parts of the rope can be up and parts can be down all at the same time. It is fluid. But a stone, at any point in time, is only in one place.
My weight was fluid. I could have eaten more and gained weight or eaten less and lost weight. By more closely observing what I was eating, I was able to lose weight.
Put another way, I changed the future by observing the present, and changed from a rope to a stone.
My old boss, Martin had said, “When you watch something it changes.”
Photo Credit: Seth Macey
In a way, observation is a certain kind of consciousness. I realized that the difference between the events happening in my life and my future potential are also consciousness. Before coming to this conclusion, it felt like my current State of Being was fluid and fraught with missing pieces. I was able to observe, measure and fix my weight like a stone. I had to be conscious about what I ate. I had to observe it.
Further, I am not only fixing my present for the future, (here referring to the concept of fixing a wave into a particle as opposed to fixing in the traditional sense of repairing), but additionally trying to imbue some evolution of consciousness in myself. I want more control and by so doing, to free myself.
To add to the irony, I believe that there is a certain timelessness in the observer effect. You can observe the present and improve on it. You can “observe” the future and bring it to life. You can observe the past and fix what happened for a better present.
Here is how you can use this powerful tool in manifesting the life you want:
1. Decide the future event you want.
2. Figure out the actions you can take that will affect that future.
3. Become consciousness — observe and measure what you are currently doing. An excellent app for this is ATracker.
4. Step it up. Make the changes you need to manifest your future event.
Sometimes, just the act of deciding upon the future you want and imagining it or writing it down, is in itself an observation. It can become your reality because you are now observing it. It changes from a wave of probability to a particle of reality.
Let me know how it goes.
We know things through mathematical formulae that have never been seen. But we know them. As an example, the waves of gravity have finally been seen thanks to the supercollider in CERN.
Just because something hasn’t been observed, doesn’t mean it’s not out there or not true. If you want something, have some faith and go after it.
Passover has arrived. It is one of my favorite holidays. Why? Because when Moses embarked on his journey to take his people to the Promised Land, from Egypt to Israel, he knew that there would be almost insurmountable obstacles in his way. He knew the Red Sea was there. He knew they had to travel through the desert for hundreds of kilometers. He knew they didn’t have the time or wherewithal to pack or take much with them. They actually invented a new kind of bread — matzoh, because they didn’t have time to take leavening. But they went anyway.
As the story goes, when the Jews arrived at the Red Sea, Moses was able to part it and they walked across. I confronted the Red Sea. It is vast. I took a boat from Eilat into Egyptian waters, stood on the side of the boat, held my breath and jumped in. I stood on the edge of the desert Moses went through. It was formidable, inhabitable, dry and sweltering during the day at least.
Here’s the thing. Before Moses even started his journey, way back at the beginning, he had faith that it would all work out. And it did.
I think this story applies well to every entrepreneur. You come up with an idea of how to make a better mousetrap. You figure out how to make it. Maybe you borrow some money from your mom. You start your business. You must have faith that it will all work out. You keep going despite many obstacles. You are wandering in the desert. You are living on crackers. You find out that you took a wrong turn. You have to pivot. You pivot a couple times. Somehow, almost miraculously you get to a place where you start succeeding. It is as if you parted the waters and walked across to the Promised Land.
Even though elements of physics were thought to be true because very smart people proved them mathematically, until you see something, it is hard to believe. Now we are seeing things that were proven a long time ago. Black holes were first identified in Albert Einstein’s, General Theory of Relativity, in 1905. This month, humankind saw a photograph of a black hole for the first time.
While going through my divorce and ensuing child custody battle, a particularly difficult time in my life, I had a vivid dream. I was standing on the edge of a cliff of a deep canyon, staring to the other side. I had to get there. If I jumped and fell, surely, I would die. The other side was far, maybe a mile away. No matter, I had to at least try. Closing my eyes, I prepared to take the leap. Just then, I felt a hand taking my hand. Opening my eyes in surprise, I discovered my father — long dead — holding my hand. I told him that I was afraid and he said, “Don’t worry, I will help you across.” He added, “You are already there. It’s just that you haven’t caught up to it yet.”
We both jumped and suddenly we were floating. I held on tight. We floated across the canyon. I remember looking down and seeing bright blue water whipped into white-tipped waves like meringue on top of a lemon pie. We landed softly on the other side. I looked over and he was gone.
Faith was going to be exceedingly important for me when building my company, Bloomers Island. In fact, it was so important that I made it one of my core values. In the past, I had a hard time seeing things through because the proof wasn’t there that would make it worth my time and effort. However, in a sense, I had the mathematical formula. I knew my product could be made and at a profit. I knew that this was important to parents. I did projections, so I knew that money could eventually be made. After much research I knew that the demographic was growing. All of this went into a business plan and at a certain point I closed my eyes and took a leap. I had to have faith that I would land safely. And I did.
While moving forward, I think about my father and what he said. When struggling, I imagine him saying to me, “You are already there you just haven’t caught up to it yet.”
You might ask, “How can I develop faith in myself and in my dream?” Try this: don’t worry about the outcome. Just focus on your work. Good luck and let me know how it goes.
Be open to a discovery/invention/idea that might be completely different than the thing you are actively working on.
Be open to a discovery/invention/idea that might be completely different than the thing you are actively working on.
After writing my first chapter of Secrets of the Universe and then taking my own advice, I started tracking my own time. On what was I spending my valuable seconds, minutes and hours? (More on this exercise later.)
I spend a lot of time walking — an exercise important for my optimal health — but what do I do when I’m walking? Listening to the news mostly. How was this serving me? Not well. I decided to listen to audiobooks and I went back to studying foreign languages. More productive. Better. The last book I read was, “The Surrender Experiment,” by Michael Singer. It explores his personal decision to surrender to whatever the universe served up to him. It is another secret to the universe — extreme willingness.
Romualdo impressed upon me with a certain import, that great inventions have been discovered by doing experiments on completely different things. This is a very important concept in physics because you must be open to what the universe is showing you. You must be willing to surrender if it turns out to be something different than what you expected or wanted. It is all tied together.
The following is a list of ten great inventions that were discovered by accident. It’s interesting to read about what they were trying to discover, and what they discovered by mistake. (Link included above.)
2. Microwave Oven
4. Ink-jet Printer
5. X-Rah Images
6. Artificial Sweetener
7. Post-it Notes
8. Potato Chips
9. Coca Cola
10. Chocolate Cookies
The Art of Surrendering and How It Saved My Business
In business, I look at a pivot as similar to surrendering. Let’s say you start a business that is an educational online game. You spend $500,000. You do a soft launch (otherwise known as a beta). Not enough people show up. Unfortunately, you didn’t save much money for marketing. No one knows it is there. It is like the party you planned in middle school when no one showed up. The next day at school you moved quickly through the halls, your head buried in a book you weren’t reading.
You scrap together $2,000 to advertise on a popular kid’s platform. It’s a monthly expense and you signed a 6 month contract. But it works — sort of. Thirty thousand kids register. The game is a freemium model — the first three environments are free — hopefully the player gets hooked, and then they have to buy a membership for $6.95 a month. The game is cute! It is fun! But few are signing. At this point, you can do two things, shut down the business, or pivot — find another business model which is just a fancy MBA way of saying finding another way to make money.
This is an educational game, you think. it could be combined with a hands-on product, and sold to schools. You make your product, write a companion curriculum, and start selling it to schools. But schools are notoriously underfunded. So you find sponsors. That works well, you are finally making money, but you realize it’s not scalable.
Finally you launch related consumer products. You are going to make and sell them but you have no working capital.
You decide to find licensees to manufacture because they will absorb the manufacturing and sales expenses and pay you a royalty. It’s hard going at first because no one know your brand name. You develop cool IP, Intellectual Property, and patent it. You leverage the thousands of school kids you’ve already worked with. You tout the 30,000 registered users you’ve already obtained for the online portion. Finally, you get a licensee. Then another. A major publisher approaches you. Then you sign another licensee. You are on your way.
That was me. I pivoted five times. It was hard. It took a long time. The Universe handed me something different than the idea that I started with. I surrendered to it. Now I have written five books that are published. My products are in thousands of stores. I have licensees on four continents. I still work with schools, but I also do events at public libraries, botanic gardens, children’s museums, bookstores, and toy stores.
My original idea was not successful. I surrendered and pivoted. My products and new business model came from that, but also from my knowledge working with the schools. My business designs gardening products and related content for kids. Without working with the school gardening programs, I wouldn’t have learned what is important for kids and their parents. I needed that discovery to invent my products and bring them to life.
How to Know When to Pivot?
There is a fine line between not possessing the perseverance to continue and pivoting. I preach all the time that the most important thing for a startup is perseverance. I don’t look at pivoting as not persevering. You are still pushing forward and keeping at it. You are just doing it in a different way. That’s okay. Instagram pivoted after they saw that photo sharing was their most used feature. Usually you will receive signs that it’s time to make a change. For me it was always running out of money. There are a lot of great articles about pivoting so I’m not going to delve into it, but instead give you some research of my favorites. Perhaps the one thing that I have held onto the most through my travails, is advice I read in a blog post and I don’t even remember where. It was something to the effect of: What if someone told you that you are exactly where you are supposed to be right now? That always gave me peace of mind and confidence.
1. How to Know When to Pivot (Inc. Magazine)
2. 12 Clear Signs It’s Time to Pivot Your Business (Forbes Magazine)
3. 3 Signs You Need to Pivot (Entrepreneur Magazine)
4. When to Push Through and When to Pivot (Startup Grind)
I think the most important thing about this concept is to be observant and open-minded and don’t be afraid of change — whether it’s change in invention or a change in business product, service or model.
Let us know about your pivot or accidental discovery. I’d love to hear about it.