A young professional sent me a story of his recent day. It is an account of being asked to do an impossible task. He shares how the task was accomplished. In the narrative are lessons for all of us.
Yesterday when I got to work, my boss called me to tell me that she needed me to draft three papers as soon as possible. Each paper was a challenge, but the last one in particular seemed impossible. Six of us had a meeting about the final paper, and we closed the door and spoke frankly with each other about the difficulty of the assignment. Near the end of the meeting, we realized there was a way forward that we could all agree on.
A friend who was in the meeting invited me to talk with him afterwards. He had an idea to use a new framework for the paper he had learned in a recent training. The framework is known as the “ABCDE” method for communications plans: A = audience; B = the behavior you want the audience to change; C = the content you’ll use; D = delivery methods you’ll employ to get your content to your audience; and E = the way you’ll conduct evaluation to see whether or not your strategy is working. The conversation sparked something in me, and I felt excited to take up the impossible challenge and use the framework.
I went back to my office and did the other two papers because their deadlines were sooner. Just as I turned to work on the impossible paper, I saw an email from my friend. On his own, he had applied the framework and sent me a draft. I looked it over and felt another spark; and I revised what he sent and expanded on it. More than anything, I just felt honest. I felt like I was honestly approaching this impossible problem and giving it my best.
About 30 minutes later, my colleague called and said that our boss wanted to see us to talk about the impossible paper. I printed out the draft I had and walked it upstairs. Our meeting lasted another 30 minutes, and we got feedback that will improve the paper yet again.
What made the impossible task possible? The organization is a large government hierarchy but that is not what is described here. In this story there are the following elements; an impossible challenge, a meeting of colleagues, frank conversation, conceptualization of possibility, a framework for action, excitement, work, mutual support, creativity, sharing, honesty, self-respect, and resilience. Together, these elements are a description of a positive culture. In the midst of conventional hierarchy, these people were living in a positive organization. The impossible became possible.
- What usually happens when people face an impossible task?
- Explain the key to the success described above.
- How can a positive organization exist in a government hierarchy?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?