I have described myself as being unreasonable, which many who know me might question. I use the term in the same context as George Bernard Shaw when he said “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” There are many situations we face where it’s easy to end up thinking any reasonable person must conclude that it cannot be done. If being reasonable leads you to where you don’t want to be, how about being unreasonable? That is, why not suspend conventional wisdom and consider possibilities that conventional wisdom often bypasses? My favorite example comes from ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek, while running the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2005. Badwater is a 135 mile race through Death Valley. No typos… 135 mile run in 125o, wind-swept desert. Here’s the account from Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run:
By mile 60, Scott was vomiting and shaky. His hands dropped to his knees, then his knees dropped to the pavement. He collapsed by the side of the road, lying in his own sweat and spittle… His friends didn’t bother to help him up; they knew there was no voice in the world more persuasive than the one inside Scott’s own mind.
Scott lay there, thinking about how hopeless it all was. He wasn’t even halfway done… There’s no way, Scott told himself. You’re done. You’d have to do something totally sick to win this thing now.
Sick like what?
Like starting all over again. Like pretending that you just woke up from a great night’s sleep and the race hasn’t even started yet. You’d have to run the next 80 miles as fast as you’ve ever run 80 miles in your life.
Yeah. I know.
For 10 minutes, Scott lay there like a corpse. Then he got up and did it, shattering the Badwater record…
Here’s what I do when someone says something can’t be done. I reply ‘I know it can’t be done… but if it could be done, what would it take… what might that look like?’ Pay attention to the answers: they are the route to the breakthrough.