What seems impossible is often no more than preconceived notions and “mental models” distorting what we see. Don’t believe it? Check out these examples:
Before 1954, the four-minute mile seemed like a barrier no human could cross. Then, Roger Bannister broke it and, within three years, 16 other runners did, too. What changed? Their thinking.
When the pioneers of open-source software first approached computer companies, the notion that software should be free seemed ridiculous. Now, lots of enterprises have built business lines around Linux and Apache.
In an era of free music downloads, many experts gave up charging for downloading songs. Then, along came Apple’s iPod and 99-cent iTunes.
How you can do the “impossible”:
Zoom in, zoom out. If you can switch focus between the details and the broad view, you’ll be able to see the trees and the forest. One method used in software development: extreme programming (XP). Two programmers work on one project. One focuses on details, while the other looks at the big picture, like whether the software actually solves the customer’s problem. Then, they switch roles. XP creates better programming faster.
Apply models in new contexts. Many executives use headhunters and Web-based search engines to recruit job candidates but would never consider using the Web or a dating service to find a life partner. On the flip side, having dinner or a drink as part of hiring can provide unexpected insights.
Create a portfolio of new models. When you’re trying to change a paradigm, a bunch of small experiments will minimize your risk. Don’t bet the store on one model; that’s what caused the dot-com bust.
— Adapted from The Power of Impossible Thinking, Yoram “Jerry” Wind, Robert Gunther, Colin Crook, Wharton School Publishing.