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Not Impossible: The Art and Joy of Doing What Couldn’t Be Done by Mick Ebeling

February 5, 2015

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I know Mick from the ad world. He has a network of animation houses who work under the banner of The Ebeling Group. Really top-notch talent. Years ago, we worked together to pitch an idea of a Saturday morning cartoon based on the mascot of a certain canned pasta brand. It didn’t get through the process, but it would have been great. I thought that was a pretty revolutionary idea. Little did I know.

A couple years ago, Mick came to speak at our ad agency about something else he had cooking—something he called Not Impossible Labs. It had started with a promise he’d made to a graffiti artist named Tempt. Tempt was suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). He’d lost movement in his entire body—everything but his eyes. Moved by Tempt’s art, Mick promised to figure out a way to let Tempt paint again. When he made the promise, Mick had no idea how he was going to do it or if it was even possible.

That was the start of an amazing endeavor that led to other world-changing projects, including Project Daniel—a quest to build a prosthetic arm out of 3-D printed parts for a young boy in Sudan who’d had his arms blown off in a bombing. Not only that, but to teach others in Sudan to use the technology so they could continue to help.

The projects Not Impossible Labs takes on are medical in nature—trying to figure out a way to make life-changing devices, and make them in a way that’s affordable to the people who need them. Then, rather than profit from them, share them.

This is Mick’s personal story—about enlisting the help of hackers, of makers, of tinkerers and dreamers to help people in need. These are modern superheroes in my book. But as inspirational as the specific stories are, equally so is Mick’s philosophy. He commits to doing something and then doesn’t give up until he’s done it. He never gives up, regardless of the obstacles, the uncertainty, or the outright fear (e.g. going into the war zone in Southern Sudan).

Mick mentions that he attended a Jesuit high school. The Jesuit motto is “Men for others.” Not Impossible is that motto embodied and supercharged by cutting-edge technology. It demonstrates the maker mentality, the open-source ethos and the mindset of rapid prototyping. Do it now, make it better with each iteration.

Not only is it a great story, but the book is also well written—a fun read that doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite the subject. Mick has a likable, self-depricating style. He gushes at times—you can almost feel him smiling in the text—but it’s nothing but genuine. All in all, one of the most inspirational books I’ve read.

If you’d like to learn more, Mick has been the subject of a Cannes-Lion-winning short film. And he’s spoken at TED. I highly recommend checking those out. I recommend this book. But mostly I recommend supporting Not Impossible Labs. As Mick says many times in this book, if not not, when? If not me, who?

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