Get ‘er done

convertibleThe story is told of the town drunk who left the tavern late at night and decided to take a shortcut home, even though it meant walking through the graveyard.

There were no moon or stars to light the ground, and with his cautiousness hampered by inebriation, he tripped and fell into an open grave prepared for the next day’s funeral. He was immediately stone sober. He frantically tried to get out of the grave but it was too deep; when he tried to scale the side walls the dirt just crumbled in his hands. After several unsuccessful attempts, he decided to wait until dawn—someone would arrive and help him out. So he sat in the corner and began to doze off.

But soon, another town drunk, also hoping to shorten his walk home, stumbled into the same grave. The newcomer had the same first reaction as his predecessor; he started jumping toward the top, clawing at the dirt, trying to escape.

Realizing the man’s attempts would be futile, and wanting to spare him the trouble, the first drunk said, “Friend, you’ll never get out of here.”

But he did.

It’s amazing what you can do — when you have to. It’s sad what you won’t do — if you don’t have to.

Years ago I worked for an organization that was so small (only seven employees) that we didn’t have a marketing or sales department. During a staff meeting, the boss asked if one of us would take on the marketing responsibilities. I replied, “I’ve never done that before and wouldn’t know how or where to start.” I punted.

Several years later, I started my own business and for the first year I was the only employee. I produced some products that needed to be marketed, but I didn’t have the money to hire someone, so guess who became the chief marketing officer. I did.

I crafted and pursued a self-directed crash course in marketing and advertising: I read four books on the subject, interviewed professionals, did a lot of research, and learned through trial and error. I became quite good at it.

It’s amazing what you can do — when you have to.

Why do we often wait until we are compelled to do something before we do it? Are we lazy, fearful, complacent? If so, are these inhibitors affecting all areas of our lives?

An unemployed friend of mine was very casual about finding a job, perhaps because his wife made good money and was supporting the family. But she left him and suddenly he was on his own. He immediately found a job. Interesting…

One day while driving around suburban Detroit, Iacocca passed someone in an old Mustang convertible. “That’s what Chrysler needs,” Iacocca thought. “A convertible.”

As soon as he got back to his office, he called the head of engineering. “Well,” said the department head, “the normal production cycle is five years. I suppose if we really pushed, we can have a convertible coming off the line in three years.”

“You don’t understand,” Iacocca said. “I want one today! Have someone take one of our new cars to a body shop and have them cut off the roof.”

Iacocca had the modified car by the end of the day. He spent the rest of the week driving his “convertible” and found that everyone who saw it loved it. A Chrysler convertible was on the drawing board the following week. [pg. 183, Stories to Inspire Innovation]

The key lesson in this essay is: don’t underestimate what you can do and don’t wait until you are forced to do something to do it.


What? – Most people can do most things if they really want to. The “really want to” is a critical factor.
So what? – Do you have a “can do; I can figure it out” attitude, or do you quickly back away from challenges?
Now what? – If you are easily dissuaded from engaging in difficult projects, change your mindset. Intentionally pursue a challenging goal and see it through to completion.

Leaders – Don’t be easily stymied by challenges; you and your team can do incredible things if you will just dig deep and try hard.

One Reply to “Get ‘er done”

  1. I laughed out loud, Don, at drunk number two’s ingenuity to scramble out of that grave! Somehow if we HAVE to, we find that we can. Thanks for the encouragement to try harder.

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