A while back, memorably, I ran a fool’s errand for some friends – you might remember this story? I undertook a mission which I knew was impossible. I did this because I am a nice girl, I owed them a favour or two and I didn’t know how to say no. There were elements of all three of those rolled into one confusing whole, plus I wanted to help.
What my friends wanted me to do was deliver a vital legal document to Central London by 4 p.m. I told them I could do this if they emailed the document to me by 2 p.m. latest. They promised I would have it by 1.59. In fact, said document arrived at 2.56 and it turned out to be 24 pages long!
My Mission Impossible (should I choose to accept it) was to print it out, drive it six miles through central London traffic, find a parking space and deliver it to point A by 4 p.m. Even though I knew this was hopeless and would cost several wasted hours of my time plus printing, petrol, Congestion Charge and parking fees, nevertheless I gamely set off.
What they didn’t tell me:
- It needed to be submitted in triplicate
- Point A was a bum steer; in fact, it had to go to Point C via Point B.
- I would need a blue biro
- I would need to pay a fee at Point B
- They would provide incomplete address information
- There was one vital fact they assumed I knew but which, in fact, I did not
It was like being on a treasure hunt – but not in a good way! I didn’t have a team with me or a full set of clues. And it was lonely and scary trying to assimilate new information at a rapid rate and not wanting to let my chums down, and ultimately a frustrating waste in every way imaginable.
Obviously, I failed.
However, although things didn’t turn out for the ultimate win for me or my pals, some things did go better than I could possibly have anticipated. Driving and parking was nothing short of miraculous, I was channeling Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as I rushed red lights and undertook people, driving like a mad super hero in my own adventure movie and that was quite good fun, I’ll admit. I like to think of myself like that.
The submission deadline turned out to be 4.30 in the end, giving me an extra thirty minutes to try to solve their puzzle for them as I arrived at the stroke of 4 o’clock. But all their deliberate or accidental bum steers meant they cut me off at the knees. Had they told me the whole truth, given me all the facts from the get-go and trusted me with the whole truth, I could have achieved their goal for them. As it was, they gave me just enough information to fail. They tricked me, either accidentally or on purpose, and to their own ultimate detriment, which tricky has echoes way beyond that afternoon. And that’s how we learn fast, isn’t it? When it’s painful.
What’s your own small business mission which feels impossible?
And would you like my help with that?