Can you promise an outcome that you don’t know how to fulfill or that you don’t own and control all the aspects that are needed in order to fulfill it?
My answer is yes! In fact, I think in many cases, these type of promises are the ones most worth making because they often reflect our aspirational dreams and game changers.
When Kennedy promised that the USA would put a man on the moon and get him back safely by the end of the century, NASA didn’t exist. In fact, all of the key technologies and materials needed to achieve Kennedy’s lofty vision didn’t exist. But, by making the promise, Kennedy ushered in a new era of dialogue and collaboration among the different space related agencies to achieve this “impossible” goal. Kennedy’s declaration stimulated a new level of innovation, which eventually positioned the USA as the leader in space exploration. This endeavor also contributed to numerous technological advancements in other fields.
Kennedy’s declaration is a very famous example of making a promise without knowing exactly how to fulfill it. But, if you think about it, we all do this all the time.
For example: every time a man and woman say “I do” and commit to spending the rest of their lives together in love and harmony, they are in essence promising something they don’t fully know how to fulfill.
In organizations when clients request or expect higher quality, lower cost and faster delivery, people rise to the occasion and go out of their way to figure out how to provide this out of the ordinary outcome.
We all make ambitious and uncertain promises that we don’t know how to keep all the time, so why are we so afraid and reluctant to proactively do so?
It is because as human beings we are fundamentally rooted in the past. We behave as if the past is the only indicator of what is possible or impossible in the future. I find that most of us live this way for the majority of the time.
That’s why people often say things like “this project is going to be really hard,” “It’s going to take me a long time to gain their trust,” and “we can’t double the numbers in one year.”
We have all witnessed that the things that seem most certain often don’t turn out that way. And, what seems most unlikely often does happen. Rationally, this means that what we may consider possible/likely or impossible/unlikely are not facts at all.
Nevertheless, even though our reality has been shaken by themany times, the past seems to still have a firm grip on our view. This is what makes us uncomfortable to make promises about what we don’t know how to fulfill.
There is a different paradigm of thinking available to us that is rooted in the future. There are many variations on this way of thinking, but all of them represent the idea that our actions and behaviors are more driven by the future we are anticipating, than by our past.
If we commit to an aspirational future state that is desirable and believable, even if we don’t know how to achieve it just yet, we will invest our hearts and souls in pursuing it and figuring out how to fulfill it.
I am reminded of something I learned early on in my career from one of my mentors that has repeatedly proven to be true: “if you do the right thing for long enough, you will always get the outcome you desire.” Unfortunately, I see too many people failing to achieve their dreams more because of lack of trying (or giving up too quickly) then because of giving it their all and falling short.
The distinction believable is very important here. It’s the bridge between the past and the future. If what we promise is not believable, it will live as a pipedream and we won’t pursue it. If it is too believable – i.e., predictable—it won’t be inspiring even if we do pursue it. Believable, predicable and pipedream are not facts. They are paradigms that we can choose to adopt in order to transform our minds.
And, of course courage is a key component.
As per one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
So, if you want to take your personal or professional life to the next level, promise something bold and inspiring that is desirable and believable and go for it. It may not go the way you think it should. But, if you stay with it you may be surprised by what you accomplish.
And, as I always tell people at the end “Even when you are doing all the right things leave a bit of room for miracles and luck.”