Kevin Bull was facing the challenge of his life. A successful stock trader and entrepreneur, Bull trained hard and finally made it as a walk-on to pursue his dream: to compete on national TV as an American Ninja Warrior. The other contestants were more athletic, more experienced, and better prepared. The odds were simply not in Bull’s favor.
Instead of brute strength, Bull leveraged his creativity to do the unthinkable. Cannonball Alley, the eighth obstacle in the Ninja Warrior Finals, was a formidable challenge, consisting of three dodgeball- sized balls, suspended by ropes over a large pool of water. Competitors had to cross over by grabbing one swinging cannonball and leaping to the next. The objective was to make it to the other side without falling in the water. Sixteen of the world’s best athletes attempted the challenge before Bull, and all sixteen of them failed.
The challenge required enormous upper body strength, after having already completed seven obstacles. Each contestant failed to make it through this incredibly demanding task and Bull, who lacked the raw power of those who failed before him, knew he needed a creative approach.
Creators are innately curious and refuse to accept conventional approaches as the only routes to success. They believe that any barrier or obstacle can be tackled with unorthodox approaches that balk established practices. In Kevin’s case, he knew a completely different method would be his only chance.
Other competitors assumed the only way to conquer the dreaded Cannonball Alley was to increase upper body strength, but Kevin chose to do the complete opposite. After clearing the first two balls and moving to the third – the place where so many others had failed – Kevin stunned the crowd by flipping his body upside down and grabbing the last hanging cannonball with his legs Just as his upper body strength had deteriorated under intense overuse, his fresh legs were able to grasp the target. Kevin locked his legs around the ball, used his upside-down body to swing in the direction of the finish line, and was able to leap in mid-air to land on his feet on the dry platform ahead. Spectators leapt to their feet and screamed with both approval and astonishment, as this unlikely ninja became the first man to triumph over the course.
Kevin used creativity – that magic we all have but so rarely deploy – to both literally and figuratively flip traditional thinking upside down in order to win. By pursuing unorthodox, innovative approaches, we can similarly conquer our own challenges.
When the obstacles ahead feel overwhelming, look for that creative angle to achieve at your highest level. In fact, this type of creative problem solving is how we’re wired as human beings. It’s time to practice these skills and prioritize the art of the possible.
Kevin’s creative approach dramatically changed his life’s course. Shake things up, and you too can enjoy tremendous forward progress – one creative flip at a time.