It Couldn’t Be Done

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Leaders are change agents, and change agents always attract naysayersHow do you know when to persevere and when to give up? I have some ideas, but first here’s a little inspirational encouragement. On July 28th, 1980, Bob Farrow read this poem on CFCA radio and I was so impressed by it I had him send me a copy. It surfaced again on the weekend as I excavated the dark recesses of my basement!

It Couldn’t Be Done by Edgar A.  Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so until he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it.”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Now, I must say I am no Pollyanna looking through rose-coloured glasses, but research does show that people often give up too soon and don’t press hard enough to find a solution. I do recognize that there are things that, in reality, are impossible to do.  However, and it is a huge ‘however’, when pessimists try to stop me or when the challenge seems too big to overcome, if it is truly a worthy goal, I will:

  • challenge my view of what ‘reality’ really is, because I know that most of my own assumptions are so deeply held that I’m not even aware of them. The same goes for you too of course. If something is desirable but not possible (in your estimation), go and talk with others. Seek out people who have lots of knowledge or lots of contacts, because the more people you ask the more complete the information you will receive. I have been very pleasantly surprised over the years when I’ve told someone about a difficulty and they’ve introduced me to someone for whom the difficulty was readily solvable. Life is most difficult when you live it alone. Let others expand your understanding of what is possible.
  • recognize that no one can truly know their personal or organizational limits until they give it their best. This doesn’t mean that you have to try to do everything. It just means that you are honest about why you are not trying. Perhaps when you say it is impossible, what you really mean is it isn’t a high enough priority, or you are too scared or intimidated to try, or you just simply don’t want to do it for any number of hidden reasons. Saying it is impossible is the easy route that lets you avoid dealing honestly with your reasons for not proceeding. It does feel better to say “It isn’t possible” than it is to say “I didn’t want to make the effort.” You don’t really know what you are capable of until you try. By the way, the reverse is also true: until you try, you don’t know what you are not capable of. The difference is, until I try I can always imagine in my mind that I could do it if I tried. That’s the definition of an armchair critic!
  • expect that my limits will change over time as I develop myself. Ryan Kennelly bench pressed 1,075 lbs on November 8th, 2008. I guarantee he didn’t lift that weight on his first ever bench press! That would have been impossible. But as he trained and developed his muscles, what once was impossible became possible. Likewise, if I am not the leader today who can accomplish my vision, then I must set out to become that leader. That means self-development. That means life-long learning, life-long reflection, life-long practicing to become what you believe you need to be. That is why I write so much about challenging yourself, about actively searching to discover what you don’t know you don’t know. I owe it to my employer to push my limits as far out as possible. (This is also a key component to your job security strategy!)
  • remember that sometimes, when the goal is really important and there seems to be no way, it just takes pure courage and boldness to move ahead. If the worst that can happen is an acceptable risk, then go for it.

In The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking, Roger Martin shows how a number of business leaders (mostly Canadians for once!) tackled challenges that conventional wisdom said were impossible to solve and created great companies such as Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Red Hat and the Toronto International Film Festival as a result. They were successful because they assumed there must be a way to do what they wanted to do and they didn’t stop until they found it. Every one else gave up too soon and picked the lesser of two evils, a solution that was less than what they desired.

We are beginning a complete, comprehensive strategic review of CCCC, and I will be applying this advice to myself and the ministry. We will be looking for the ideal way to achieve our mission and will challenge everything that holds us back from complete mission fulfillment. We will exhaust all sources of help before settling for anything less than the ideal solution.

Have you got any favourite stories, slogans, truisms or anything else that encourages you to try to do “the impossible“?

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