In business and in life, I have a hot button. After 40+ years I am clear about that.
Maybe it’s because of my sales background, or my competitive sports background, or some childhood experience that I have not tapped into yet or paid enough money to a therapist to extract from the depths of my psyche. But when someone tells me that something is impossible, I make it my mission to prove them wrong.
When I feel a spark, I commit wholly to the idea, without necessarily having a sense of how—or if— I will be able to complete it. Sometimes it scares me (and frankly, it scares my wife even more) but when presented with a challenge, I find it incredibly hard to back down.
Such was the case when I met the family of Tony “Tempt One” Quan, a respected Los Angeles-area graffiti artist who has been laid up in a hospital bed for nearly a decade due to advanced ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a neuromuscular disorder that has rendered him completely paralyzed.
His family told me their concerns: communicating with Tony was labor-intensive and frustrating (they would point to letters on a chart and Tony would blink when their finger skimmed across the correct letter), and his ability to participate in art was out of the question.
I was under the impression that in our country and in this decade, that communication tools for people with paralysis was a given. We have all seen YouTube links to Stephen Hawking who doesn’t let his paralysis slow down his brilliant mind
and revolutionary theories. When I discovered that these tools were not readily accessible to people unless you had health insurance or money, I made one of the biggest commitments of my life: “I’m going to find a way for Tony to do art again!"
There was just one problem: I had no idea how I was going to accomplish this.
Thus began an interesting, uplifting, heart-wrenching, frustrating and inspiring journey that culminated in the creation of an eye-tracking device called The Eyewriter. It’s an open-source, DIY technology solution that allowed Tony to use the only part of his body that moves—his eyes—to create new, unique pieces of artwork. We shot a documentary about it, so if you’re interested in the story, you can check out the trailer below:
It also caused me to launch the Not Impossible Foundation
, a nonprofit group that finds real-world solutions to seemingly impossible problems.
The whole journey got me thinking: is there a process for making the impossible possible? Was I following some sort of pattern or process that could apply elsewhere, so that each time I made a big promise I wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel to make it a reality?
I realized that I do have a process. It’s actually really simple and it’s something that anyone can do. You don’t need special skills, a PhD in human psychology, or a life coach to help you perform.
You just need to follow these five steps:
Step 1: Stop for a second, then listen to yourself. Is this truly something you believe in? If you can't stop thinking about this and feel you absolutely have to make it happen, then guess what? You have to make it happen. Don't ignore that feeling.
Step 2 : Once you have decided, ignore the NOs. There will be lots of them. Don't accept NO for an answer—especially from yourself. Setbacks are ramps, not road-bumps.
Step 3: Allow your passion to be contagious. People naturally want to help someone they believe in to succeed, and viscerally feel that they are operating from their heart.
Step 4: Surround yourself with like-minded people. Anyone who brings you down should be jettisoned. Immediately.
Step 5: The most important step is don't stop. You can't stop. No matter how hard it might get. Finish what you started. Period.
The most satisfying part of the work I’ve done so far is not just the new inventions and new thinking that comes out of the Not Impossible Foundation’s projects, it’s actually the part where people come up to me and tell me their “impossible” ideas that they suddenly view in a whole new light.
So what are you going to make NOT impossible?