Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Catching Unicorns

In mythology, the unicorn was described as a wild and beastly horse-like animal with one horn. Its horn was said to have the power to make poisoned water drinkable and heal sickness. However, legends said the animal would rather die than be caught. If you wanted to catch it, you needed a virgin. Leonardo da Vinci once wrote in his note book, “the unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.” 

Since the unicorn is a rare breed of animal with magnificent powers, it is the perfect analogy for people who are considered
difficult to understand. Their power is often in their intellect or counterintuitive perspective of the world. They can be so unique that some believe they do not exist. 

On the other hand, when they are encountered and allowed to think freely, they make enormous contributions to society. In fact, they can alter the course of history. Some are known as John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla and Steve Jobs.

While we are all familiar with those names, there are other examples that fade into oblivion. They are your neighbors, colleagues, subordinates, spouse, brothers, sisters or children. They are the people with such complex minds that it is difficult for most to grasp their ideas.

Perhaps it is our KISS – keep it simple stupid – philosophy that stands as one barrier. We have been indoctrinated with keeping it simple. We are told that if it is difficult to understand, it’s not worth the effort. Yet, Nikola Tesla registered over 800 patents that were steeped in complexity. For example, in the late 1800s, he was the first to explore wireless technology. During that time, wireless technology was thought to be impossible. He also perfected Edison’s electricity by inventing AC – alternating currents. Now, decades after his death we are just beginning to understand many of his other inventions. Unfortunately, he died poor and destitute. Did society squander the brilliance of Tesla?   

With that said, I have to ask, how many unicorns are you stifling in your circle of friends, family and career? Perhaps many of societies biggest challenges could be addressed by the mind of someone who is difficult to understand.

Instead of telling the unicorns to KISS, engage them. Ask them to help you understand what they are saying. Give them your undivided attention and let them know which parts of the conversation do not make sense to you. By doing so, you honor their brilliance and provide a platform to fully express themselves.

Perhaps to fully capture what they are saying, you have to listen with virgin ears. In other words, if you have preconceived notions about them or what they say, you will miss the value in their conversation. You will have tainted their words with your own presuppositions, instead of gaining greater understanding. When you listen with virgin ears, you may find unicorns are not as difficult to understand. 

Someone put together a brilliant short video of what might have happened if Nikola Tesla were alive today. The video shows how investors may have assessed Tesla if he were doing a presentation. It depicts how one with predetermined thoughts can attempt to limit a unicorn. 


Contrary to popular belief, most of us know or have met a unicorn. The challenge is they do not want to be captured and domesticated. They require lots of space to think freely. Instead of judging them as being different and telling them to keep it simple, start meeting them where they are and listen to the logic behind their thoughts. When you do, you may find you are a unicorn too.   

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.

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