For decades, transportation experts and city planners who studied traffic congestion in major cities came to the conclusion that not much could be done to improve gridlock. Based on available street widths, speed limits, and other constraints, they were correct.
But Elon Musk approached the problem in a completely different manner. Instead of reaching a dead end through traditional thinking, he asked a different question: What would need to happen to solve urban traffic? Rather than looking at the world in the way it currently existed, he chose to examine the necessary conditions needed to reach the desired outcome.
This approach led to The Boring Company, a business Musk founded that creates massive underground transportation tunnels with the aim of eradicating the traffic problem that bedevils millions of us each day. He refused to accept that something couldn’t be done, focusing his attention instead on what would need to happen to actually do it.
The same thinking has led to nearly every major breakthrough, from the toaster oven to the connected computer. When other car manufacturers said a low cost, high volume vehicle couldn’t be made, Henry Ford asked what conditions would need to change in order for that to actually happen. The exact question that led to his assembly line breakthrough.
While the vast majority of people accept limitations as fixed and immovable, history makers take the opposite approach. The only thing they view as fixed is the desired outcome – from launching groundbreaking companies to curing disease to solving desperately needed humanitarian challenges. With their goal in sight, they next ask an incredibly powerful question: what conditions would need to occur in order to win?
The same logic can apply to each of us on a smaller scale. Instead of saying the quarterly sales target is impossible, why not ask the same powerful question: What conditions would need to change in order to achieve it? Maybe you’d need to add sales people, run additional marketing, or offer customer discounts. Let’s leave the goal in place and then reserve-engineer how to conquer it.
Each of us can make history in our own way by leveraging the approach of legends. Instead of defaulting to NO or CAN’T, challenge yourself and your team to ask what would need to happen to make the impossible possible.
As you hunt down challenges and seize opportunities, reject traditional limitations and deploy your curiosity instead. “What would need to happen to make it so?” can be your secret weapon to achieve where others have fallen short. If you’re willing to get creative, you’ll find a way to succeed where most people stumble.