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How to Accomplish the Impossible

Genius sometimes just means not realizing that something is impossible.
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A college student arrived a few minutes late for his final exam in mathematics.  The room was quiet, with everyone working hard, and the profes­sor silently handed him the test.  It consisted of five math problems on the first page and two on the second.  The student sat down and began to work.  He solved the first five problems in half the time, but the two on the second page were tougher.  Everyone else finished the exam and left, so the student was alone by the end of the time period.  He finished the final problem at the last second.

The next day he got a phone call in his dorm room from the professor.  “I don’t believe it!  You solved the final two problems?”

“Uh, yeah,” the student said.  “What’s the big deal?”

“Those were brain teasers,” the prof explained.  “I announced before the exam that they wouldn’t count toward your final grade, but you missed that because you were late.  But hardly anyone solves those problems in so short a time!  You must be a genius!”

“Genius” sometimes means just not realizing that something is impossible.

Some days you have have to wonder how you’ll do all you have to do. You'll ask whatever made you think that you could challenge the incumbent players in your industry, let alone create a company that could one day be worth something. Those days are inevitable, but they pass. And when they do, you're usually left with a sense of pride that you have greater capacity for achievement than you realized.

Every successful entrepreneur faced doubts, both within and without: Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. Fred Smith of Fedex was told his blueprint for overnight delivery was wildly impractical, and Jack Bogle of the Vanguard Group was told his idea for a financial services company owned by its shareholders was doomed to failure.

The only antidote is to believe in yourself and your idea–but mainly in yourself. After all, every business plan is wrong in its original form: A good part of entrepreneurial genius is being able change quickly. Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway, for example, originally thought her business was about saving frugal women money on their workday wardrobes. After watching one of her customers try on a couture gown, though, she realized she was in the business of helping women realize their Cinderella fantasies. Ideas change, but the entrepreneurs don't.

And what gives entrepreneurs the ability to pull off the impossible, is belief. Belief leads you to ask “what’s possible?” and then follows that question with “what else is possible?”  You have to do this in your business, if you intend to survive.  A positive attitude, creativity and determination combine to create genius.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan recounts a story about the genius of the Greatest Generation.  “Once, at the University of California, a student got up to say that it was impossible for people of her generation to understand the next generation of young people.

‘You grew up in a different world,’ the student said. ‘Today we have television, jet planes, space travel, nuclear energy, computers...’

“When the student paused for breath, Nancy said:  ‘You're right.  We didn't have those things when we were young.  We invented them.’”

Mackay’s Moral:  What could you accomplish if no one told you it was impossible?

IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Feb 3, 2012

HARVEY MACKAY | Columnist | Founder, MackayMitchell Envelope Co.

Harvey Mackay, author of The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World, is founder of the MackayMitchell Envelope Co. He has written six bestsellers, including Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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