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Kissyface: A Not Impossible Story

Helpful things are not always brought by intention

Welcome to Not Impossible Stories, a 10-part miniseries that makes the impossible… not impossible.

Founder and CEO Mick Ebeling and the team at Not Impossible Labs are dedicated to changing the world through technology and story and have teamed up with Thrive Global to share stories of amazing technology seeking to make the impossible… not impossible.

For his thesis program at Stanford, Elliot Spellman developed a mobile pinball game controlled using a facial recognition interface that recognized eyebrow movement. A simple raise of the eyebrows would move the pinball flaps.

He had always enjoyed creating relatively useless things, even starting a business founded on the idea of creating useless things.

Elliot did not expect that his game could be used for anything besides fun, but after meeting Dr. David Putrino, Director of Rehabilitation Innovation at Mt. Sinai, the pair came up with a very practical and life changing application

The two developed a way to use facial movements to be able to control a mouse on a computer screen. The outcome: people with severe spinal cord injuries were able to use computers completely on their own.

Elliot had never thought he would be developing such a practical and useful piece of technology. However, he came to an important realization that Not Impossible Labs has also experienced. As Elliot states,

“Helpful and beneficial things don’t always come from direction intentionality.”

To learn more about Kissyface and how it is helping spinal cord injury patients, listen to episode 5 of the Not Impossible Podcast available now.

Q&A with Mick Ebeling, Founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs:

Q: What do you think the impact is of creative thinkers, such as Elliot and yourself, getting in the technology space?

ME: Ideas come from anywhere. At Not Impossible, there’s a big distinction between brilliance and knowledge. We have witnessed people with no experience, no credentials, and no criteria, solving problems because of the fact that they think creatively. They’re not limited by the constraints that they have put on themself based on what they see as how the world exists. Creative thought is something that you can’t compartmentalize and credentialize. It has to be something that is given freedom to grow. It has to have freedom to express. That’s where the brilliance reveals itself. 

Q: Can you talk a little bit about David Putrino and his personality?

ME: Doctor Putrino embraces both knowledge and creative thought. It is the best of both worlds because he has the personal credentials and experience that allows him perspective. His background influences his thinking, but it doesn’t inhibit the way that he solves problems creatively. That’s a very, very rare skill. The ability to be able to compartmentalize knowledge and creativity is something that is rare and extremely important to everything we do at Not Impossible.

Q: What is your experience with the idea that helpful and beneficial things don’t always come from intention?

ME: If you begin to see the world as existing linearly, things have a pathway, or there’s just a rational of how things happen, you isolate yourself from the brilliance and the mystery of how true innovation takes place.

There’s so many times where someone has been striving for a solution, and then they see something that’s complete non-sequitur or completely tangential to what they’re doing. That then gives them the ammunition, or spark, to be able to solve the problem. The observation and solution were a non-seeming influence but, in fact, were the true catalyst for why the person was able to solve it.

It also lets your mind play. When you go into something with this blank slate, you embrace what we call beautiful, limitless, naiveté. That is the purest place to problem-solve, because you’re not influenced by what has been or what should be, but by the potential of what can be.

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