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The Power of Can't

(A Change Management Article)

There have been a number of articles written on the power the word "can’t" exercises on those who have been the recipients of such conversations. "Can’t" disempowers, encourages weakness, spawns cowardice, and removes choice. All these observations are true, which drive us to remove "can’t" from our vocabulary.

However, sometimes the word "can’t", can have the opposite effect. When we are told we can’t sit in a certain location or achieve a certain goal, we often decide to face the challenge and overcome. Whether out of rebellion or justice, we choose to rise to the challenge.

Herb Brooks, coach of the US Hockey Team at the 1980 Olympics, used the idea of can’t to motivate his players in a pre-game speech prior to meeting the USSR in the championship game.

“Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that's what you have here tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here, tonight. One game. If we played 'em 10 times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with 'em. Tonight, we stay with 'em, and we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players—every one of ya. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time—is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearin' about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. … This is your time!!” Brooks

His team had been bombarded by the message that they weren’t fast enough, strong enough, good enough. Yet he turned that "can’t" message into a message of "will."

Often we are surrounded by messages that make us small. “You can’t….” “No one ever has….” “You will never….” “You aren’t ….” These messages if allowed to take root, ground us to a false truth. To this message Winston Churchill gives us sound advice.

"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”Churchill

The final step is to answer the question "why?" Why do we dare to challenge the preexisting status quo, the way things have always been done? John F. Kennedy grants us advice.

“We choose to go to the Moon! ... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win ....” JFK

To those who surround us, that say to us, “You can’t.” Remember, they are just the motivation to accomplish the impossible, to be the first in your family to go to university, to attain a degree, and to want more for your children than picking crops on a farm in Mississippi.

Change is on the other side of the locked door. Innovation is the glimpse we see through the crack. Victory is our ability to go where others "can’t."

© 2018 Barry Robbins, Silver Bear Solutions

Contact The Author

Barry Robbins is an IT Executive with a strong record of success in transforming IT organizations by envisioning, developing, and implementing IT business solutions.


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