In January, we introduced our 2023 Strategic Agenda based on in-depth conversations with top CSOs in our Outthinker Strategy Network. We will be expanding on one of these trends every week with the intention of supporting your organization’s strategy for the next year and beyond. This is our fourth installment.

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Overcoming the limits of the mind 

Before 1954, no runner had ever broken the barrier of achieving a four-minute mile. It was an elusive milestone, one that coaches and athletes, through experimentation and training regimens, strove to accomplish. Finally, on May 6, on a cold, wet day in England, Roger Bannister shattered the record with a time of three minutes and 59 seconds.

Only 46 days later, John Landy improved the fastest time again, running a mile in three minutes and 58 seconds. Once the feat was proved possible, more and more runners were added to the list of under-four-minute milers. Last week, Track and Field News announced that it would no longer keep track of runners who have broken four minutes in the mile, because improvements in shoe technology (along with tracks, experience, and coaching) have turned the once-impossible goal into a regular occurrence.

But the first four-minute mile record was broken without the high-tech running shoes of today. Even Track and Field News admits that many of the runners who broke the barrier would have been able to do so without the right running shoes. Perhaps it is not just the shoes, but the belief in the possibility and seeing others achieve it that enables such records to be broken, first with difficulty and then with ease.

Unleashing virtual reality on mental barriers

As technology, particularly around virtual reality (VR), advances, will the limits around what is possible continue to release? After years of failed attempts, Landy broke the new record just about a month after Bannister first did so.

Many entrepreneurs and founders know, it’s usually after many failures, followed by unexpected successes, that we build the foundations in our minds of what’s possible. The combination of generative artificial intelligence (AI) and VR may further enhance our abilities to visualize. NVIDIA is already building a generative AI model to populate virtual worlds with 3D objects.

What if I could see and hear myself, through a VR headset (which experts say will soon evolve to encompass other senses), running a four-minute mile? Could a “non-competitive” runner like me improve my speed by watching and feeling myself do it?

Coaches tout the benefits of visualization to convince our minds to test the limits of what we can achieve. In virtual reality, those possibilities will increase exponentially.

I had a conversation with Tony O’Driscoll, author of Everyday Superhero: How You Can Inspire Everyone and Create Real Change at Work, about the evolution of artificial intelligence. “AI will improve in its ability to identify possible progression paths that could become plausible and then, perhaps, provable,” explains O’Driscoll.

As humans, our beliefs are limited by our experiences, our observations, and our influences. Technology and virtual reality, through worlds like the metaverse, may expand the spread of options to create different possible paths for us. We will see ourselves doing things that we never thought we could do.

“Imagining” the possibilities inside organizations 

At Outthinker, when we work with organizations on their strategic thinking, we follow a five-step process called IDEAS: Imagine, Dissect, Expand, Analyze, Sell. (I’ll talk about the first step today, but you can learn more about the whole process here.)

The first step in the process is to imagine. We ask participants to visualize the mess that will occur if they continue down the same lines without making any changes. Next, we ask them to visualize the desired future for their organization. Right now, all of that visualization is limited to the confines of our minds. In the future, it could be supplemented by AI pointing out possibilities we have not imagined on our own.

With the shared vision in mind, we then work backwards to visualize the future of their industry and where they want to fit in. Again, today we are limited by the industry boundaries we know, the data we’ve collected, and the trends as they exist today. We rely on talented futurists and market insights experts to separate the actual trends from the noise. Yet, very soon, machine intelligence will be able to supplement with even more possibilities to consider.

Futurist Dr. Mark van Rijmenam describes:

“Recent developments have demonstrated the ability of generative AI to create full 3D worlds and virtual environments with unprecedented realism. Researchers have been able to train generative AI models on vast datasets of 3D models, textures, and lighting, allowing the AI to generate photorealistic virtual assets and worlds. This has led to the creation of highly immersive and interactive virtual environments, blurring the lines between the physical and the digital world.”

Perhaps you have a vision for your team and you want to show them; in the future, generative AI combined with VR might make it possible. Digital twins, digital replicas of factories, buildings, or products, are already allowing organizations to improve efficiencies by testing new features and processes virtually before implementing them in the physical world. You may see a digital twin of your organization, where you can test new ideas and new initiatives and watch them play out.


The human mind has the potential to overcome many limits, and now technology, particularly virtual reality and generative AI, will likely enhance that potential. Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute-mile record shows that once a barrier is broken, it becomes easier for others to achieve it.

VR and generative AI could help convince us that even more is possible, even before we are able to see it manifest in the physical world. As technology continues to advance, it will be fascinating to see how these tools will shape our beliefs, behaviors, and capabilities, and what new barriers will be overcome.

Photo by Fitsum Admasu on Unsplash