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The Power of Impossible Dreams
by Bob Ferchat and Tony Carlson


We are besieged daily with news stories that highlight the very worst of the inhumanity we humans inflict on each other. Whether it is the insatiable, unrelenting violence of the Middle East or cruelty and abuse to children in suburban America, the dismal, unremitting litany makes one wonder where it all ends.

Can we be safe from each other? When? Where?

But then something amazing happens and we awaken to the possibilities of dreams that are articulated with so much passion that we are forced to admit a slightly less depressing world view. We applaud, if only with our hearts and maybe some small tears that escape our hopeful eyes with thoughts of what could be.

The dreams that excite us are the big ones, encompassing important advances that make life better. They do not even have to touch our own lives, only those of people who are having a tough time, who have been dealt a bad hand.

Michael J. Fox: To dance with his children

Michael J. Fox is one of those folks, and his dream is one of the big ones, a passionate belief that we can conquer Parkinson's Disease fast enough to allow him to dance with his children. This is a dream that is more than inspiring, it is contagious. Who can watch the Michael J. Fox story and not be caught up in the belief that it is possible if we try hard enough and pour on the energy?

It is an amazing dream, this regenerative medicine, and who knows where it will lead. Impossible for the doubters. But the believers embrace a commitment that, almost on its own, makes a breakthrough inevitable.

Moving from dream to commitment is a journey of faith, built on the passion of unrelenting belief and the ability to convince others to follow the dream. Do you have any doubt that Michael J. Fox has assembled the ingredients to make his dream a reality? If so, then please step aside; there are people who have important work to do who need the space you're taking up.

Another Fox, a fellow Canadian named Terry, had a similar dream, simply refusing to accept the prognosis of the oncologists. To be sure, the insidious cancer eventually won its battle with Terry. But for a long time, it had to stand aside and watch while he performed miracles in broad daylight in his footrace against time from the East Coast toward the West Coast. Terry Fox bequeathed us a lasting message of inspiration that is embedded in the hearts of millions, strengthening them to face their own battles, lifting their spirits to behold the possible. Not the likely. Not even the potential. But the possible. It could happen this time.

Such belief is like radiation, invisible but powerful nevertheless.

Christopher Reeve: Still in the game

Christopher Reeve has such beliefs, such conviction, such passion. With gasping respiration, from his wheelchair, he has become a driving force in the possibilities of spinal cord repair. Why not? Faith in possibilities is a force not to be underestimated.

We count among our friends Jeff Adams and Rick Hansen. Two more dedicated people we have never met.

Jeff Adams: An inconvenience, not a handicap

Jeff has won more Olympic Medals from the seat of his wheel chair -- using strengths much more than just physical -- than one can even envisage let alone recount. His spirit - and his life work - demonstrate every day that while wheelchairs may be inconvenient at times, they are not handicaps.

Rick ended his "Man in Motion" journey around the world with a sprint across Canada's bleak and frigid highways in the dead of winter. In so doing, he inspired everyone who had contact with him. And continues to spread word of his impossible dream, giving motivational speeches that could get the most slothful couch potato to try out for our Olympic Hockey team.

All these young men -- Michael Fox, Terry Fox, Christopher Reeve, Jeff Adams, Rick Hansen -- have set lofty goals. More important, they have set about attaining them with a just-do-it attitude that would do well as a mantra for more than just a shoe company.

There are always lists of excuses for those who need them but then again ... just maybe.

Who knows what would happen when we collectively decide it is time to do something about the terrible afflictions - physical, mental, even political - that bedevil humanity.

When Kennedy made his famous speech in October 1961 that the U.S. would land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade, it was an impossible dream. We had not invented the computers to guide the trip; the materials to withstand the heat and pressures were unknown; indeed, the needs could not be calculated.

When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar landscape in July of 1969, did it represent the pinnacle of our technical knowledge or the intensity of our commitment? Clearly both, but the commitment came first and the technology was forced to catch up with what we knew we were about to do.

Impossible dreams are about accomplishing miracles through spirit, dedication and the bullheaded attitude that we need to do it. Kennedy had the need for his country to demonstrate American technical superiority to the Russians and everyone else.

Most of us have contact with someone who is fighting a heroic battle in this war of survival. These people are not necessarily glamorous or famous. But theirs is a battle nevertheless. And each victory is as much about the spirit and the desire to win as it is about the chemistry or the physical patch and sew.

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve have the need. Just as important they are recognizable, articulate icons of our culture with enough economic clout and sheer star power to get their messages heard. Collectively we have the capabilities. Indeed, the solutions seem to be rooted in stem cell research, a medical technology whose time has come so that we can solve two enigmas: how to engineer regenerative repair jobs to live cells and how to sponsor new cell development.

We may be cockeyed optimists, as the song says, but it seems to us that we have all the ingredients in place to make our Impossible Dream a reality - for Fox and Reeve, maybe within the decade. After all, Armstrong was months early. Maybe we can be too.


The Authors


Bob Ferchat - former chief executive of companies such as Bell Mobility and Northern Telecom Canada - and Tony Carlson are principals of I-Magin-ation Inc., a Mississauga-based company that creates innovative content for the Internet. Their first book, Tangled Up In The Past is an analysis of why big companies miss technology opportunities that are staring them in the face.

Many more articles in Insight & Commentary in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2002 by Bob Ferchat and Tony Carlson. All rights reserved.

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