What Can’t Be Done

For the duration of history there have been stories told about the eccentric behaviors and decisions of a many creative genius. Usually such behaviors are heavily scrutinized by the average onlooker and assigned a less than complimentary excuse. Yet, it’s the outlandish behavior of some that predicate a number of the greatest feats recorded in the history of mankind. 

In the late 1890’s, Lord Forrest was named the first Premier of Western Australia. He quickly sought the help of a brilliant civil engineer that was working in New Zealand, a man by the name of CY O’Connor. Known for his ability to solve complex engineering and infrastructure challenges, O’Connor’s reputation for clearing shallow ports and creating lucrative shipping harbors was enough for Lord Forrest to work to actively lure him away to Western Australia.

Almost immediately, the discovery of gold deposits instigated the gold rush in Western Australia, drawing thousands to the coasts in hopes of striking it rich.  Unfortunately, the gold ore was located some 400 km inland in the middle of the Australian desert, and with no water supply to speak of, hundreds of people died of dehydration and disease from contaminated water supplies. Lord Forrest approached his new Chief Engineer to solve the water supply problem. CY O’Connor began creating an ingenious plan to pump water from near the coast at Mundaring Weir uphill over 400 km inland to Kalgoorlie to bring a water supply to the booming mining industry. He researched and devised a plan, commissioned the equipment he was most confident in, and sent the plans to England for approval.

After a long delay in approvals the plans were approved, and Lord Forrest placed his faith in O’Connor by dedicating massive amounts of state capital to the project (amounts that exceeded the existing GDP for Western Australia several times over). The people said that it couldn’t be done- that water could not be pumped uphill at that grade and for that distance, and quickly the public outcry began. After seeing the initial phases of the pipeline to fruition and overcoming the obstacles of pumping water uphill out of a deep valley, public scrutiny continued to mount over the massive cost of the project- most of which was directed at O’Connor personally.

Confident that the project would work, but knowing that his public image was forever marred, O’Connor woke one morning, wrote a note for his family to find, mounted his horse, rode into the pasture, and shot himself. Shortly thereafter, his pipeline was finished and water flowed to Kalgoorlie- just the way he said it would. That water supply facilitated the mining of the most gold-rich square mile in the world- one that has allowed Western Australia to be financially self-sustaining ever since.

Monday Morning Perspective:

“Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”– Albert Einstein

“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality overcomes everything.” -George Lois

A significant measure of individual merit today is found in one’s ability to think outside the box. And even though organizations are working diligently to recruit bright, creative, young professionals they still make the same mistake that the Australian public made back in the early 1900’s. If you truly want creativity and ingenuity to thrive around you- whether that be in your work team, your students, or your own children- you have to learn to stop criticizing and start supporting the creative process. Get comfortable with getting out of the way and letting the people you expect greatness of to actually develop it.

Had the people of Western Australia been successful in dissuading Lord Forrest in his support of O’Connor they may have never been privy to the immeasurable wealth that his water pipeline made possible. Don’t allow your preconceived notions about what “can’t be done” to interfere with what others believe can be done. You risk losing the greatest of assets (and an atmosphere of ingenuity) if you make that mistake. The only thing that can’t be done is the thing that you refuse to attempt to do!

Have a wonderful week!

Warmest Regards, 

Crystal Dyer

© Crystal Dyer 2011. All rights reserved.
ISSN: 2158-1355

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