Opening Possibilities

Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

-Paul Hawken

I learned a powerful lesson recently in an interview with Lincoln Crawley, Managing Director of Manpower for Australia. I asked him if there was a watershed learning event in his career. He pointed to a moment over fifteen years ago while trying to win a services contract. He was the lead on a proposal competing against a company with an enormous infrastructure advantage. Basically his competitor had the necessary systems in place to serve the client, and his company didn’t. The client required a redundancy system in place for security and he just didn’t have it, while his competitor did. He seemed sure to lose the contract, as the task to replicate their infrastructure seemed nearly impossible.

During the proposal process, the people around him described the obstacles and cost, and then in one meeting his boss said, “I understand the issues and concerns you are raising, but tell me: If it were possible, what would the solution look like?” That simple phrase – if it were possible – gave the team permission to speculate, and opened a whole new conversation around if it were possible. It’s an invitation to dream.

Lincoln and his team conceived of a plan, proposed it to his prospective client, and they won the contract. But here’s the interesting part – he said he didn’t fully recognize the power of the suggestion “If it were possible” until years later when he started using the expression with his own team in a leadership role. Only then did he recognize the power of opening the capabilities and imagination in his team. If you think your team is stymied, try it.