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Jim MathisBy: Jim Mathis, IPCS, CSP, MDiv
J&L Mathis Group, Inc.

To Those Who Say,
“It Can’t Be Done”

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” -Peter Drucker

First Timer?
I saw an episode of “Family Feud” the other night and one of the answers the audience gave was “Old School Pager.” Ten years ago, almost all business executives had to carry a pager or cell phone to take calls while out of the office. At that time, you may have even had a Palm Pilot or other Personal Data Assistant (PDA) to take notes and keep your calendar. If you listened to music you carried an iPod as well.

Then the world changed… In the spring of 2007, Apple introduced a device that combined the cell phone, the PDA, the pager and the iPod into one single device. They even included Internet access so you could research while on the go. We know it today as the first iPhone. There was much excitement around the announcement that Steve Jobs made in the public unveiling… but, there was plenty of skepticism, too.

“No one’s ever done this before!”

“People won’t carry all this information in one place…it’s too confusing!”

“Why don’t they leave my phone alone?”

and… “What if it fails to catch on with the public?”

Scott Stissel wrote, “They say that Apple Innovator and Pixar founder Steve Jobs would only become more emboldened when people told him that something couldn’t be done.”

This reminds me of a friend that I worked with in 1995 who was discussing our organization having a website to publicize our location and business. “I think we need to wait a few years to see if the Internet will catch on. It may pass away like CB radios!” It sounds funny today, but if you are old enough, you remember the push back the doubting public had to the Internet and business websites back then.

Just 10 years ago, the idea of small businesses and even individuals having their own sites on the Internet were as unheard of as WiFi in your house, affordable GPS on a phone, streaming movies and Bluetooth earpieces. Look at the movie, “Back to the Future,” and you will see how people relate to progress in a span of just 30 years.

Remember when Marty McFly is told by his grandmother in 1955 that nobody has more than one TV?

It Can’t Work!
I love the success stories that begin with someone saying, “We’ve never done it that way before!” Here are a few examples of people who defied negative public opinion and dared to do something never thought of previously:

  • J.K. Rowling became the world’s best-selling children’s author, despite living on benefits as a single mother. Her manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by several publishers before someone took a chance on it.
  • Christopher Columbus believed that the fastest way to the East was sailing West.  He campaigned before King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain to finance his idea. Instead of India, he opened the door to the Western Hemisphere.
  • Jesse Owens experienced racial discrimination in the U.S. but became a hero at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. By winning Olympic gold in the 100m, Owens helped demolish the myth of Hitler’s Aryan superiority theory.
  • Kia Silverbrook is an Australian who invented digital music synthesis, digital video, digital printing, computer graphics, liquid crystal displays, 3D printing, image processing, DNA analysis, cryptography, nanotechnology, semiconductor fabrication and integrated circuitry. He is still alive and creating.
  • Philo Farnsworth invented the “image dissector” in 1927. Today we call his invention, “television.” There is at least one in every home, sports bar and hospital room.
  • Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a Union Colonel in the American Civil War.  He led a bayonet charge against an overwhelming force when his men ran out of ammunition at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. His brash decision was successful and he received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Nolan Bushnell said, “Everybody believes in innovation until they see it. Then they think, ‘Oh, no; that’ll never work. It’s too different.’” Don’t let anyone tell you that your idea is impossible if they haven’t tried it themselves. Naysayers are experts in negative criticism. They most often desire to remain in their comfort zones.

Comfort zones never allow for growth or creativity.

Last year I spoke with my good friend and mentor, Joe Bonura, who has always been supportive of me. He presses me to move forward and take risks. One of his favorite sayings is, “You will succeed in direct proportion to your willingness to come out of your comfort zone.” The two of us discussed a marketing idea that almost nobody is attempting in our field.

He challenged me to contact corporations with a different method of increasing their income than they had previously attempted. I had tried this successfully several years ago, but not as an introduction to a new client. Do you want to know a quick way of upsetting someone’s comfort zone? Try pitching an unheard of idea to a person who has been in their job for more than five years.

Are You a Believer?
It is extremely difficult to try something that no one has ever attempted before. President John F. Kennedy challenged the U.S. to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely by the end of the 1960s. While we look back on the “Space Race” and think it was very easily won, it was a daunting task.

The Soviet Union had already put Yuri Gagarin in orbit when Kennedy made this challenge in 1961. The U.S. had only sent Alan Shepherd up and down for 15 minutes.  Our space program was lagging far behind the Russians. The thought of taking a person to another world, landing him on it, launching again and coming home safely was thought to be unsurmountable in just under eight years.  But, the challenge was accepted and accomplished.

The problem you face from the receiving perspective is, “Will you think outside of your own box for a change?” Imagine if you worked at NASA and you heard Kennedy’s words for the first time… It’s your job to make this idea a reality. How would you have responded? Peter Drucker said, “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”

How do you react when someone “pitches” a new idea to you that requires doing your job different? How open are you to change and innovation in your life and career?

The real heroes are the people who accept an idea, whether they get the credit or not.

Risk-takers are often people who believe in the unknown because they know things haven’t been successful doing it the same way in the past, i.e., those who trained Jesse Owens… the officers and soldiers who charged down the hill with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain… the publisher who worked with J.K. Rowling. King Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain believed in Christopher Columbus enough to finance three ships and crew. The investors who first believed in Kia Silverbrook and the “angels” who backed Philo Farnsworth were believers.

The U.S. hockey team faced long odds in the 1980 Winter Olympics. They were outexperienced by practically every team they faced. Somehow they made the medal rounds. In a deciding game against the Russians, they won the match before millions viewing on television. Al Michaels, sportscaster for ABC, was beside himself as the clock ran out with the team ahead. As the excited crowd in Lake Placid shouted, “USA! USA! USA!” Michaels screamed, “Do you believe in miracles??? YES!”

I was in Canada immediately after the Canadian Olympic hockey team defeated the USA at Whistler in 2010. As I deplaned in Calgary, the hockey team had just landed and thousands of excited Canadians were waiting in the terminal to greet their heroes of the previous night’s victory. They believed all along in their team.

The question is not always whether you will dare to do something different. The question is whether you will believe and support those who do, or turn and run. It requires a strong will and a belief in something greater than yourself. It requires being uncomfortable to make your results different and better.

As Joe said to me, “Jim, what’s the definition of doing the same thing over and over and getting no measurable results? Crazy!”

So, are you a believer, a risk taker or just crazy?

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Jim Mathis, IPCS, CSP, MDiv. is The Reinvention PRO™, an International Platform Certified Speaker, Certified Speaking Professional and best-selling author of Reinvention Made Easy: Change Your Strategy, Change Your Results. To subscribe to his free professional development newsletter, please send an email to: subscribe@jimmathis.com with the word SUBSCRIBE in the subject. An electronic copy will be sent out to you every month. For more information on how Jim and his programs can benefit your organization or group, please call 888-688-0220, or visit his web site: www.jimmathis.com. © 2017 J&L Mathis Group, Inc.