I recently read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. In Chapter 41 President Obama visits Silicon Valley and meets with a group of several CEOs including Jobs. A supporter of Obama, Steve Jobs found himself dismayed that President Obama kept explaining to him why things can't get done.
Robert Sutton at Stanford express similar dismay in a blog about ‘No We Can’t’ mindsets: “I sometimes believe that the core competence of GM managers and executives is explaining why they are powerless to make sensible changes... And, unfortunately, when people believe that organizational change is impossible, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
That reminded me of a set of ‘perfectly reasonable’ statements Robert Galvin put in his book “Idea of Ideas”. These are things you’re likely to hear from managers:
“We can’t do everything.”
“We can only afford so many development projects.”
“There are only so many good people.”
“We’ve got to make a healthy profit first.”
These too are roadblock statements. Galvin’s point was that a company creates and sustains itself by going farther. Galvin suggested that you must go beyond what you know you can do, beyond what the customer tells you, and into the space of “Total Imaginable Market”. Think ahead to where the customer can go, where technology can take the customer, not where the customer is. And then just go there. Galvin suggests leaders ask questions: "How can we do everything?" instead of "We can't do everything." You still won't do everything, but you'll likely to more.
Of course the prime example of this success model is Steve Jobs who designed and built products that showed us what we didn’t even know we wanted. What Steve Jobs was famous for was his Reality Distortion Field. He repeatedly got his team to do what they thought was impossible by simply insisting that they could do it. So it is easy to imagine his dismay when the leader of the free world behaves in exactly the opposite way and shows himself an expert at throwing up roadblocks to his own (and the nation’s) success.
Big Hairy Audacious Goals are achievable only if we insist we do them.