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3 Subtle Ways To Shift Your Attitude From Can't-Do To Can-Do

There's a whole lot more that can be done than can't be done—especially if you learn how to say it, solve it, and celebrate it.

A friend of mine recently came back from a trip to Australia, where he simply marveled at the predominant "can-do" attitude that existed throughout the country. His enthusiasm was shocking to me only in that as I reflected on the last year, I realized how many people I had encountered who were obsessed with what could not be done in today’s world.

It seems that globalism, technology, and political gridlock have convinced many Americans that the change brought on by each is making it impossible to do anything. This obsession with explaining why things can’t happen seems so antithetical to everything that America and our entrepreneurial spirit are founded on that I, for one, am sick of it. So I suggest we all take on a resolution to dream a little bigger this year.

I know how challenging the world is today. It is a very complex and dynamic place where there seem to be more problems than answers. But therein lies the hope. I, too, have fallen victim to obsessing about the complexities making things more difficult to navigate, but it’s always good to take a step back and remember that no dream is achieved if it’s not first spoken of in the light of day. So a few suggestions for anyone who’s also tired of hearing about what can’t be done:

1. Pick one thing you want to accomplish this year and tell everyone you work with or are close to what it is. It’s amazing how motivated you will be to get it done once you’ve said it out loud. For example, I recently created and filled the role of president for the agency. To ensure that she would be successful, and I wouldn’t lapse into doing things that for 20 years have been my entrepreneurial duty, I had a companywide meeting where I outlined her new leadership responsibilities. After such a public declaration, there is no backsliding for me now—and so far it’s been a home run for all.

2. Any time you or someone you are with identifies a problem, do not end the conversation without proposing some fragment of a solution. This is harder to do than you realize. I was recently in a meeting where we were all happily complaining about how utterly impossible the marketing problem we were wrestling was to solve. So I suggested that if we came up with a hypothesis by happy hour, drinks were on me. Lo and behold, we came up with three. Shocking.

3. Spend more time celebrating and acknowledging accomplishments, big and small, that both you and the people around you achieve. This reminder of a can-do spirit can be infectious and highly motivating. At every VIA holiday party we give out the VIA Way awards, which are granite stones engraved with the VIA logo (long story, but it has a meaning). You would think that getting a rock wouldn’t be very exciting, but I promise you, people value these awards like they had just received an Oscar. When the winners are announced they get a sincere, explosive standing ovation from the entire agency because their recognition is the embodiment of what we struggle every day to deliver—dreams. Everyone wants more of that feeling, so it drives us throughout the year.

These three simple steps of saying it, solving it, and celebrating it can be the best fertilizer to make things grow. Yes, the world is a complicated place, for sure. But people who are willing to dream a little bigger will wake up with smiles on their faces.

The VIA Agency, founded in 1993, uses cross-functional teams to solve complex marketing challenges and help clients find new growth. VIA is one of the top 100 agencies in the U.S. and counts numerous Fortune 500 companies as clients. VIA was recognized in 2011 as Ad Age's Small Agency of the Year.

[Image: Flickr user Dan Jordan]

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  • Tania

    I find that when I tell people about something I plan to achieve they help.  I have achieved goals simply because people come across something that could help me and let me know about it.

  • Marina

    Beautiful John! How spiritual of a businessman, I am really impressed... Can I ask you permission to use your article on my website and Facebook in Sweden? Here we have long list of to-do things before dream arise... You may be familiar with the spiritual sources of your country, if not,  USA has more to offer than others. You may like this beautiful work, which deepens you idea to the quantum practice:http://www.emfworldwidestore.c... HAPPY DREAMING AND PRACTICING YOUR DREAMS! Marina, a Stress Therapist from Sweden

  • Lisa Sansom

    Great ideas - but I wouldn't call "telling everyone your goal" exactly subtle. :-)  Though yes, it's powerful. 

  • hasz

    Finaly we have universal answer to all humain problems. And everybody will be happy and smilling,

  • Marko Gucunski

    This article reminded me of a line from a movie "Are you Mexican or a Mexican't ? "

  • Kathleen Deely Pierce

    Spoken like a true leader. I'd like a rock one day. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Amber King

    Spend more time celebrating and acknowledging accomplishments, big and small, that both you and the people around you achieve. By acknowledging accomplishments, you will feel good and so will the people around you. This should be practiced  by entrepreneurs and people around.

  • Guest

    Readers' eyes scan lines around middle page of the screen from left to right. Every time people reading from the left can see a black social tool bar, which covers 40% of the first letter. Yes, we can still guess the rest 60% correct almost every time. 

    But, would you please move this annoying social tool bar down to the left-down corner, if your designer prefers to reserve this guess work for readers (since it's not a first-time complaint.) ... :S

  • Sognal

    I am glad to hear that other Aussies you have come across had a "can-do" attitude, that's great to hear, as it's not sure it's as common as you might hope down here. 

    Great article, I especially enjoyed your second paragraph about saying the drinks were on you. Amazing to see what works to motivate, doesn't it? Hahahaa :)

    Having said that, I was more deeply impressed with the stone VIA awards, and the connection your staff have to them being about achieving dreams. Any culture which can develop the desire for a spontaneous standing ovation is a rally positive and powerful one - well done! :)

  • Charles M Cawley

    Americans often use a universal appeal to 'be positive' to deny challenges exist at all.  For instance, they deny office and business politics and do not even teach it on MBa courses.  This is because they believe it cannot be taught and it is always nasty so, it is a good idea to deny it exists.  Politics is a neutral word, if handled right can be astonisingly positive, if only, to head off the current destructive abuse and the appalling damage to the competitive edge of corporations.  Instead, an appeal to 'always be positive' is used for the ultimate negative act: an excuse not to meet challenges and an excuse not to listen.  This is the prime reason for the New American Way of No can do.  It needs to be ditched very quickly.

  • Michael McGivern

    Yeah but Charles if we start teaching this then someone might not feel special and their feelings will get hurt!

  • Charles M Cawley

    The aim is to give good people the tools to head off unkind people to improve things for them and the company.  Surely this would make them feel more special and do the company good at the same time?  It is really positive to face up to challenges and get solutions.  The downer is to know they are there and know that if you say anything about them you will be accused of 'being negative'.  This makes people feel very unspecial and ignored.  If you like, at the risk of being boring, I can describe one of these tools to illustrate how empowering they can be.