“It can’t be done.”

Photo credit: Michael Wolf
Wolf has documented residents in Hong Kong’s oldest public housing development, living in flats most of us would consider far too small to hold a single person, let alone a family; each is a mere 100 square feet.

This is what some companies say when faced with unexpected customer demands. But this is what successful entrepreneurs call a challenge to creativity.

What assumptions about the impossible are holding you back?

They might be about technology: “In order to get more bandwidth, we have to spend more money.”
At Palo Alto Software, we recently made some innovative changes to our database structure that provided more data availability, and scalability, at a significantly smaller cost. The trick was to challenge the assumptions represented by standard hosting services and move into the cloud.

They might be about logistics: “Nobody can guarantee that a package will get there overnight.”
In the early 1970’s, Frederick W. Smith bought an aircraft company and started providing express delivery services for small parcels. You might know his company today as FedEx.

They might be about the effectiveness of a new solution: “Fevers are caused by imbalanced humors that vary from one individual to another.”
Luckily for us, Ignaz Semmelweis didn’t listen when his colleagues insisted that it was perfectly safe to go from performing autopsies on young mothers who had died of fever to delivering babies in the next room, without washing their hands in between. Without the germ theory of disease to explain his observations, Ignaz was unable to convince his colleagues that they were spreading a physical contagion. Nevertheless, his publications were the stimulus behind the practical experiments of hand washing by doctors that are the basic elements of contemporary antiseptic policy.

Once you identify your challenges, make sure that your innovations are providing real value to the customer–Guy Kawasaki illustrates the point very nicely in this talk on Niche Marketing at the Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Speaker Series at Stanford.

Sara Prentice Manela
Palo Alto Software