Last week I faced a somewhat daunting challenge which basically required me to be in two different cities at the same time. Clearly, that’s just not possible so something was going to have to give and it didn’t seem like I had any good options in order to accomplish two important objectives within the timeframe that was acceptable. I started to feel like I was beating my head against the proverbial brick wall and for some reason a line from Matt Damon’s role in The Martian came to mind. “Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem . . . and you solve the next one . . . and the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.” It might not be the perfect quote given the problem that I was facing but I found inspiration in it and that made it good enough.
So, I kept asking questions, pushing on constraints, checking the calendar, asking about alternatives. It took multiple phone calls, emails and texts but suddenly I got a return phone call informing me of a new date option for one of my objectives that hadn’t existed hours before. This was welcome news and although I had to relax one of my time constraints a bit and it was still not the perfect solution (the perfect solution literally was to be in two places at once), it was certainly better than any of the options I had open to me when I woke up that morning. As soon as I heard about the new option I knew it would work and could feel the stress of the morning slip away.
The point here (regardless of whether you like Matt Damon or enjoyed The Martian) is that when faced with a problem you just have to keep pushing the perceived constraints in order to find out which ones will give and which will hold firm. Note that I said “perceived constraints”. You never really know what the true constraints are until you aggressively explore the limits.
There are countless examples of people who have excelled at this over the years. If their name is so well known that you don’t have to wonder who they are or what they accomplished then odds are that they kept working the problem well after they hit their first stumbling block. Want proof? Jobs, Musk, Wilbur and Orville, Edison, Tesla, Gates. The list could go on but note that in each case, I didn’t’ even have to use their full name. Had anyone of these greats given up at their first roadblock we wouldn’t know their names today.
While I didn’t accomplish anything nearly so great last week as those listed above, had I given up any sooner, I would have ended up with a much less desirable solution. But I’m just not used to taking “no” for an answer (at least not without a lot of questioning and understanding the rationale behind each and every answer).
I’m sending this monthly newsletter as I fly back home thanks to all of those who have pushed the envelope. I wonder what Wilbur and Orville would think if they could see the state of air travel today. 140 people at 32,026 feet, 509 MPH, in reasonably comfortable seats, being served pretzels and something to drink while surfing the internet!
When faced with a business challenge (or personal one for that matter), how diligent are you in pressing for a different answer as opposed to accepting the first one given to you?
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