#waystokillanidea – It Can’t Be Done.

During a conference on immigrant entrepreneurship which we hosted, we asked our attendees to keep three key ideas in mind throughout the day:
1. Fail fast, fail forward.
2. Do not be afraid to think big.
3. Do not be quick to say no.

Obviously, there are some things we should all say no to, but generally speaking, we are often to quick with the dreaded “no”. Specifically, we are far too quick at killing ideas. Our keynote, Julie Young (who did a fantastic job) left us with some ways as to how ideas are killed. While everyone began laughing at each item, it became clear that we’ve all heard them before for either one of two reasons:

a) We heard someone say them, and couldn’t believe that they did, or;
b) We said them ourselves, and looking back we weren’t entirely sure why.

Previously, BCG released a list of “120 Ways to Kill an Idea”; I’ve selected a few of my favourites that I will be writing adapting for the social enterprise landscape, in an ongoing series – #waystokillanidea.

Here goes #1: It Can’t Be Done.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard this. A part of me gets quite upset when I hear this; another part wants to prove people wrong. Sure, some things can’t be done – i.e. I can’t flap my wings and fly to Mars, but most often we use this excuse in a poor context. Consider the following:

1. The Hurricane Prevention Device:
With shifting weather patterns and climate change, hurricanes and other natural disasters have taken their toll on us, killing thousands and racking up property damage bills in the billions. Insurance companies are warning of a significant shift which will permanently change how the industry operates. Sure, we could roll over, play dead, and hope for the best. Or people with the right mindset, like Dr. Stephen Salter could say why can’t we do something about this? Salter has proposed a device made out of car tires that would reduce or stop hurricanes. The cost? A few thousand dollars.

2. New Battery Design:
This is a classic “can’t be done” story that is seminal in business circles. A company needed to develop a new battery. They were constantly told by their best and brightest that it simply could not be done. What they wanted was technically impossible to create as a battery. A manager within the company hired a chemical engineer with absolutely no previous background or experience in building batteries. The new hire made it clear that they had no idea as to where they would even start. The new engineer was isolated from the “It can’t be done” crowd, and told nothing of the past failures. The end result? The project was completed in 6 months for a fraction of the previous cost spent. During a post-mortem of this project, the forward-thinking manager was asked why he felt that this new recruit succeeded where others failed so miserably. His answer was simple: he didn’t know that we were asking the impossible of him.

3. Insulin:
Before the Canadian team of Banting and Best made their remarkable discovery, the thought of treating Diabetes seemed impossible. The ability to properly identify, much less extract and eventually synthesize insulin, must have seemed like magic. Before this revolutionary discovery, diabetic children were grouped into wards, where their families would watch them slip into comas, and eventually, death. During a visit to a children’s ward, the team started to administer insulin to comatose children. Before they reached their last patient, the first had already woken up.

Some problems may be beyond us, but many just require the right mindset and a positive attitude. Next time you hear “It can’t be done” take a moment to reflect, because it may just not be true.

– Rodolfo Martinez