photo by James Pond

The myth of ‘cannot be done’​ (and 2 tips on how to start)

Today I was driving by one of the big burger chains, and saw their outdoor ad for home delivery. It’s a very common sight nowadays, with restaurants scrambling to stay afloat during lockdown. It still tickled something in my brain.

I’ve been a part of a couple of conversations throughout the years (in different countries), trying to convince some of the biggest fast food brands to do home delivery. Invariably, the answer was always ‘It cannot be done.” Because the food is not suitable for delivery, because the logistics would be impossible. Notice, the reasoning wasn’t about making financial sense or not. It was ‘it cannot be done’. Turns out it can.

To do things that cannot be done (I love this half sentence, btw) what you need is a champion within the organisation who has the means and/or the soft power to make things happen. Or a pandemic. Whichever comes first.

To be fair, nobody (okay, very few people) thought about the possibility of a global pandemic that would, from one month to the next, shut people indoors and completely overhaul everyday behaviours and habits. Which makes me think of 2 somewhat similar exercises we sometimes do with our clients. We used to use them as provocative thought starters. But maybe it’s time they became a regular part of strategy meetings.

  1. The “What if…?” game: It’s a series of design scenarios about alternate dimensions in which something profoundly evident in our world is missing or turned upside down. (e.g. What if people couldn’t leave their homes…could you imagine?!). We prep the scenarios then together with our clients start to think about how their company might still be successful in that scenario. How would they have to evolve? It doesn’t have to be realistic, but the core of every idea can lead to something that _can be done_ .
  2. Kill Your Company: Same purpose, different route. This exercise challenges stakeholders of companies who do well to think of the “killer app” in their own industry. What kind of startup or new venture could jeopardise their business if it appeared tomorrow? What needs are they not meeting that a newcomer could, that would seriously upend their market? Then think about how you could stop that from happening — what can you do to fill that gap for your customers?

There are of course many other techniques to get people’s brains to think outside of the status quo. There will be some revolutionary and maybe less exciting but solid ideas in the end of these occasions. But what happens next is the big deal (sometimes literally). You actually make it. OK, not on full-scale. Maybe not even functioning. Maybe you just fake it. The important thing is to give it a whirl. Make a prototype. A low-fidelity one. And maybe test it on just a few users. Or just one location. You get so much feedback and input with so little risk, and you take it from there. Maybe it turns out it didn’t work, and holy crap it’s a good thing you didn’t restructure your entire delivery line based on that. And maybe it works, but needs iteration — then do that. Or maybe it’s a jackpot. For the price of a lottery ticket.

More often than not it’s one of the first two. Or actually, more often than not none of this happens. Unless you have that champion within your organisation. Or, you know, a pandemic.

(Note: this article first appeared on my LinkedIn, but I’m cross-posting it as it might be relevant for people following me here too.)

Strategic Design Lead at boldx.hu, ice-cream eater, Hyper Island alumna (Digital Experience Design)