|Five questions to ask before you say “Impossible”
Take a look at the items on your desk. Except for a coffee mug, just about everything you have didn’t exist several thousand years ago, even several hundred years ago. Most electronics didn’t exist 50 years ago, and some not even 10 years ago.
Most of what you have today would have been considered impossible to those from an earlier time. Imagine what someone who lived just 200 years ago would say about holding a device that tells you it's going to rain, allows you to talk and send messages to someone just about anywhere in the world, while purchasing items to be delivered the next day. "Ah, that’s impossible". What would someone only 50 years ago say about printing food or self-driving cars? What would you say about having a world without violence, or shortening your project schedule by 90%, or being able to levitate against gravity?
Before you conclude something is impossible, whether it’s delivering a project in a fraction of the time, or traveling to a distant galaxy, ask yourself five questions:
Question #1; What effort are we willing to expend on this issue?
Solutions don’t happen by themselves. Someone has to put effort into it and allocate resources (people, money, facilities), to accomplish a goal. If the will to invest the effort isn’t there, then something that is possible, is impossible. For example; If you want a project to be successful, you have to spend effort to ensure that the appropriate goals, resources, and guidance are allocated. You make it possible because you put the effort into it. Is a cure for cancer possible? Most would say, “Probably, provided we continue to research and put the effort into experimenting and trialing different approaches”. The effort must be there. A cure for cancer won’t occur by itself.
Question #2; One of the most important questions to ask to assess what effort we are willing to expend on an issue, is to ask what the Need is. How necessary is the solution? If the need isn’t there, the effort is generally low. The greater the need, the more the effort. We saw this with events like Ebola and we’ll see this again with the Zika virus. When the threat is high enough, the need becomes great enough, then the effort applied becomes sufficient enough to solve the problem. If a project you’re working on is in trouble, and the leadership of your organization knows that it is critical for your organization to be successful with that project, the appropriate resources will be applied.
Question #3; Given a defined level of effort (#1), how much time will it take? There’s an expression used by the Army Corps of Engineers during WWII; "The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer". Given a certain level of effort, things can get accomplished given enough time. Going back to the cure for cancer; given the efforts of today, most scientists would agree that “it’s just a matter of time” before we find a cure. If we increased the effort, the time would be shorter. So there’s often a direct relationship between time and effort. The greater the effort, the less time. Let’s say you’re on a project and the goal is to accomplish the project in 50% less time. One way to do that would be to put more effort into the task; perhaps increase the number of people on it, or the budget to buy new technology, or to increase the effort of leadership to focus on the task at hand.
Combine Questions #1 and #3. Before you rule that something is impossible, or for that matter, say that it is possible, you’ll want to ask, “What is the effort we are willing to expend on this issue, and for how long? If the result of this question is “we can do this but it would take 500 years at the current level of effort, or we could do it in one year, but the effort (cost) would exceed the U.S. gross national product”, then the response might be “it’s impossible, based on the current conditions”.
Question #4 - When the combination of #1 and #3 gives you “impossible”, ask, “What conditions, changes, or inventions, would have to occur, to make what seems to be impossible, possible?”. In other words, can you change the conditions? Is there a solution that will require less effort or less time? Don’t accept the status quo that results in impossible, without pushing on it hard. Make the impossible possible!
Question #5. Is this just physically impossible? Do the laws of physics, as we know them today, prohibit a solution? For example, traveling to a distant galaxy, hundreds of millions of light years away. From what we know today about materials, life, maximum theoretical speeds, this is impossible. Doesn’t say it will always be impossible, but for today, it’s just not going to happen. Before you rule out the possible because it’s physically impossible, go back to question #4, and ask, “What would have to change to make what seems to be physically impossible, possible”. Remember, “The impossible just takes a little longer”.
The Takeaway; It’s simple; Nothing is impossible; it’s just a matter of the level of effort, the time and discovering what is possible to make the seemingly impossible, possible. Another way to look at this is; There IS a solution out there. We just have to look for it and find it.