Impossibility and Risk

Regarding a working definition of “impossible” and “risk”

impossibility and risk - technology - business decisionsIn discussing a difficult, pending project, with many real and imagined obstacles, via email (an imperfect tool) with a partner and colleague. Business and product names have been [obscured] in the text below, to protect the [innocent] and/or [neurotic].  🙂

<I wrote> As the French writer Andre Maurois said, “the world progresses thanks to impossible things, which have been accomplished!”  I suppose this is my approach to life and business and [software name], but of course we have to be clear about what can and cannot be done, on the difficult schedule requested of us…

<He wrote> I like your approach. But to attempt the impossible is to take risk, and when you speak “software system” with  a model agency manager, well…risk is not appropriate. Are we here to attempt the impossible ? It can be dangerous (I like to philosophize at 1am 🙂

<I wrote> Regarding impossibility and risk…  I was joking, having a little fun, by sending that great quote, which I believe in, but would NOT want to live my whole life by!  The word “impossible” in this context really means, “has not been done before” or “has not yet been imagined or attempted”.  Of course, some things may be truly impossible, but as time goes by, technology and knowledge change, revealing new possibilities, and enabling new ways to do things which were previously impossible.  So it is fluid in definition, and possibility, over time.

Impossibility and Risk - definitions and go or no-go decisions<I continued…> To apply these ideas practically and appropriately to our business, I would say that we must SOMETIMES attempt things that at first appear impossible, but are really just very difficult, requiring great effort.  There is risk in this, and I have said before “nothing ventured (risked), nothing gained” but I would NOT want to live or work completely at or in risk, always attempting the impossible – we would all have heart attacks!!

<I rambled onward…> Risk = danger, and to undertake something risky requires caution, clarity and cleverness, with complete confidence in your abilities and knowledge, to find a solution and succeed.  But the risk of attempting the impossible, or very difficult and stressful, is sometimes appropriate, and necessary.  For the right strategic opportunity, we may decide to abandon the safety of our risk-free box, and work outside it…  [Client name] was such an opportunity, as it was presented to us suddenly, imperfectly, and seemingly impossible!  We did a VERY good job in attempting the impossible, enough to impress the client, so that now we can have the opportunity to do it properly on a more normal/reasonable schedule. Truly, if we had not attempted to do the risky/impossible task, we would not have the opportunity to do the big/proper one that is coming.  We passed the “test” and won their confidence – they know we are responsive and capable now….

So, now you know my views on “impossibility and risk”, at least in the related realms of business, software, and consulting (where I make my living).  Sadly, my colleague on the receiving end of this diatribe, on the aforementioned subject did NOT share my views, even after this eloquent and heartfelt email exchange. Not even the exquisitely apropos quote from the French (my colleague’s home language) writer was enough to sway him, and change his mind.

However, finally, ultimately, I DID accomplish my objective, and my colleague agreed to move forward with my idea and approach to the complex project we contemplated. How did I change his mind?  I didn’t.  But I DID overwhelm him with the passion, eloquence and tenacity of my arguments, so that it seemed to him there was no alternative but to go forward as I demanded (strongly suggested). Oh, and the project turned out to be a huge success, just as I knew (believed) it would!

I believe this is a common thing in business and life. That one person arguing to attempt the impossible – in spite of the obvious risks – may effectively “win the argument” without actually convincing, or changing the mind of, the other person.  Thus, the impossible may be undertaken, and becomes possible, because at least one person – alone, or part of a team – believes fiercely that it was possible all along.

This is something powerful and empowering to contemplate, as you consider undertaking your next impossible, risky task or project.  Or better yet, don’t think about it at all – just believe it to be possible – and make it so!!

Good luck with undertaking your next impossible (risky) task. 🙂

 – Russ Murray –


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