Mission Impossible

Excerpt from “If It’s Not Impossible, It’s Not Interesting—Leveraging Personal Experience to Create a High Performance Team” by Guy L. Smith IV, and the Diageo North America Corporate Relations Team.

By Guy L. Smith IV, Executive Vice President, Diageo North America, and the Diageo North America Corporate Relations Team

How many times in your life has someone said to you, “You can’t do that; that’s impossible”? You just can’t do it!” A parent? A teacher? A coach? A colleague at work? Your boss?

“It’s impossible to do that. No one has ever done that.”

“You can never go faster than the speed of sound.”

“Man cannot fly.”

So many times in so many circumstances human beings have achieved the impossible. And have done so in the face of myriad people, thoughtful, educated, sincere people, who deeply believed “that’s impossible; you just can’t do that.” History books are full of these achievers: Columbus;

da Vinci; Lincoln; Chuck Yeager; the astronauts of Apollo 13; the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

And we see in the news every day wonderful stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Every day. And yet every day in businesses and governments and every other kind of entity, people routinely succumb to the notion, “you can’t do that; it’s impossible.”

What does it take to overcome this negative approach? Millions of dollars have been made on books about achieving success, about motivation, about myriad other topics surrounding accomplishing things. But the books don’t tell you how to discover a new continent, how to win a civil war and end slavery, how to break the sound barrier.

In fact, millions of people are successful at what they do but have never done the impossible. Someone can be a very successful office worker, assembly line worker, even doctor, scientist, or lawyer; make lots of money; and still have never done the impossible. Is achieving the impossible just a mindset, a belief the football coach instills in his players during halftime in the locker room? Yes, that’s part of it. The impossible we are talking about here holds back successful companies, entire industries, sometimes even societies. In part, the impossible is defined by a fear of change. Being afraid of change stymies progress.

It won’t take you long to recall the last time at work somebody resisted changing something. From the mundane and unimportant like changing the stationery, the look of the bulletin board, the type of coffee in the coffee machine, or the traditional venue for the office holiday party to the much more serious like changing the company name, dropping a product line, merging to survive, or closing regional offices.

But we forget that change also brings about the impossible—a new life, a new family, a new career, a new person. Change can be a friend. Change can be harnessed to achieve beyond one’s wildest expectations. The impossible can only be achieved with change.

Achieving the impossible requires openness to change. Achieving the impossible requires taking risks. Achieving the impossible requires a journey into the unknown. Ask Columbus. Was Columbus scared as he sailed into the unknown? You bet. Ask any astronaut. Ask Lincoln. Was

Lincoln scared when he set out from Springfield for Washington, the United States of America at war with itself? Certainly. But also ask the athletes who won the game against all odds. Ask those heroes who are celebrated in the news media everyday when they help the disadvantaged, the homeless, the single mom, the wounded soldier. For each one, the journey began without a final destination. The journey began with an objective, yet the final destination was unknown. And the unknown is inherently scary, at least when you are by yourself and on your own.

An open mind makes change a friend. It is exhilarating and exciting. It can make the hair on your neck stand up sometimes, but just like the rush of adrenaline the athlete feels course through her body, so can be taking on change and embarking on that journey into the unknown. But it takes a mind that is open to ideas, to looking at things from a different angle, to thinking thoughts that are different, heretical maybe, forgotten sometimes, foolhardy to less intrepid souls. But that is what it takes.

So let’s go back to that ever-repeated comment so often made in offices everywhere: “You can’t do that; it’s impossible.” Maybe you don’t want to try for the impossible because you will fail. And for sure you don’t want to be seen as a failure. There are myriad examples of not taking a risk at the office, as any regular viewer of The Office on TV knows. And there are certainly a zillion examples of someone who got promoted because he or she never took a risk, always took the safe path. These are the “successful” people we spoke of earlier. But it takes more than success to achieve the impossible.

What does the impossible look like? How does it feel? Impossible is different to each of us. It can mean many things. We have seen this with the personal stories of my colleagues. And we have seen how these experiences, each one deeply personal and unique to each individual, were incredibly empowering.

The next time somebody says to you “You can’t,” just smile and think to yourself, “Yes, I can. If it’s not impossible, it’s not interesting.”

Our corporate story has given voice to this remarkable team that repeatedly accomplishes the impossible. How do they do this? Why do they do this? These pages lay out seven simple guideposts for achieving the impossible. Remember them. Commit them to memory. Believe them. Practice them. And achieve things you never even dreamed! How hard could that be? It is not hard at all if you decide that it is not.

The Seven Guideposts to Achieving the Impossible

  1. Believe in yourself.
  2. Believe in the mission.
  3. Be willing to change the rules of the game to achieve your goal.
  4. Have the humility to ask for and use help from others.
  5. Focus all available assets against a single objective.
  6. Have the tenacity to relentlessly, tirelessly persist in the mission until it is accomplished.
  7. Use your own (and others’) knowledge, skills, experience, and training to confidently say, “I can handle whatever they throw at me today!”

Excerpt from “If It’s Not Impossible, It’s Not Interesting—Leveraging Personal Experience to Create a High Performance Team” by Guy L. Smith IV, and the Diageo North America Corporate Relations Team. The book is available through http://www.amazon.com/.

Guy L. Smith IV has been executive vice president of premium drinks company Diageo North America since 2000. He is responsible for all internal and external communications, government affairs, reputation management, public policy, and corporate social responsibility. Smith was previously in the Clinton White House as special advisor to the President. Prior, he spent more than 25 years in senior corporate and government roles.

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