Dreaming the impossible dream

Too many people and organizations are just trying to make money, and the harder they try, the harder it is

I recently watched “Man of La Mancha,” a musical based on Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel “Don Quixote.” I had seen the stage version starring Richard Kiley years ago, and I can still hear his rendition of “The Impossible Dream” ringing in my ears. The movie version features Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren, and I found it to be a great reminder that’s just as inspiring.

Don Quixote, a Spanish gentleman, was born a couple hundred years too late. He wanted to be a knight in shining armor, but guns had been invented, and swords and spears were passé. Even so, this did not stop him. He recruited a farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, mounted his old nag Rocinante and went off in search of adventure.

Quixote’s eyesight was poor. He even jousted with a windmill thinking it was a giant. Although there are funny moments, it’s really not a comedy. Quixote is trying to revive chivalry and right some wrongs. In words taken from the theme song, “The Impossible Dream”:

This is my Quest, to follow that star,

No matter how hopeless, no matter
how far,

To fight for the right without question
or pause,

To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause!

And I know, if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest,

That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,

That one man, scorned and covered
with scars,

Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,

To reach the unreachable stars!

Not exactly the sort of mission statement we’d find in a corporate charter or a business plan, and I wonder just how much poorer many business results are because of that. Stretch goals are tough enough – who wants to try for an unreachable star?

Yet interestingly, many of our greatest companies were founded on such goals, even though they were never articulated as such.

Henry Ford wanted to build an automobile the average person could afford. Today, we take it for granted, but in his day, it was laughable, like jousting with windmills.

Wilbur and Orville Wright wanted to fly like birds. They built and flew the first successful airplane and continued to improve it. They inspired others who did likewise, and today we think nothing of buying an airline ticket to go somewhere. In 1903, when the Wright Brothers first flew, the general consensus was, “If man were meant to fly, he would have been born with wings.”

The development of the computer industry is loaded with such stories, and many New Hampshirites were part of them. The colossal IBM didn’t stop Ken Olsen from starting Digital Equipment, which eventually became the second-largest computer company in the world. Other local companies included Wang, Data General, Hewlett Packard, and the list goes on.

The existence of all these giants didn’t stop Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak from founding Apple Computer in a garage. Today, many of the giants are gone, but Apple has a rather commanding position.

Sergei Brin and Larry Page came late to the Internet search business, which was dominated by Yahoo, Alta Vista and others. Brin and Page developed algorithms that would prioritize search results providing the ones we wanted most at the top of the pile. Google was born, and it immediately went from zero to a very dominant market share.

What about your business or industry? Is there some annoying problem defying solution? Is there some new feature that could make a difference and provide you with a commanding market share? Yes, people will think you’re crazy, but if it works, they’ll wish they had been with you.

In the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” You’ve got to believe you can, and no cheating. Be chivalrous. Be noble. 

No doubt it will be profitable if successful, but that’s not what’s most important. Be true to your glorious quest, and make sure “that the world will be better for this.” 

Too many people and too many organizations are just trying to make money, and it seems like the harder they try, the harder it is to make. Put some soul back into these efforts. Try to do something that is truly good, and then the profits will truly be miraculous. 

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque3@gmail.com.