Can't because or Can if, that is the question

I can still distinctly remember a lesson that I had to learn the hard way. In Florida back in 1985, we were in a meeting trying to find a solution to a business problem. My boss offered up different possibilities to which I kept responding with, “We can’t do that, because…” After a few of these responses, my boss angrily retorted with, “Lance, you not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem!” That was a slap to the face, but he was right. I was embarrassed, but learned a valuable lesson.

Matthew May in his book Winning the Brain Game presented the concept of Can-If Cascading. It would have saved me a lot of pain if I had read it before that meeting in Florida. It simply means to replace “can’t because” with a “can-if” statement. Matthew told a story about a problem the Mars Pathfinder team was trying to solve. “We can’t land a rover on Mars for $150 million, because landing modules cost too much”. Instead they applied the Can if Cascading approach. “We can land a rover on Mars if we figure out a way to land without a landing module.” They came up with the elegant solution of using air bags like those found in automobiles to bounce the rover to a stop on Mars. Problem solved.