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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book review- Make the Impossible Possible by BILL STRICKLAND with VINCE RAUSE


YEAR : 2007
PAGES: 231

CONTENT: Book review by Nkechi Obianigwe

Just like the popular sportswear brand, Adidas, whose slogan states thus “Impossible is Nothing”, same way Bill in his book “Make the Impossible Possible” (which is divided into ten chapters) explains the fact that impossibility is a non-existent word that limits the scope of our dream and passion. From being a ghetto kid, he went further to become the: Founder of Manchester Craft Guild, CEO of Manchester Bidwell Centre; an orchid cultivator; a commercial pilot amongst others.

Bill grew up in the Pittsburgh ghetto which seemed lifeless and was as though nothing good could evolve from such an environment. This book explains how Bill was able to live above his environment and circumstances to dream big and affect positively, individuals who were coasting through life with no sense of purpose and direction; a one- time regular ghetto kid who has contributed immensely in giving meaning to the life of other individuals.

In the introductory chapter of this book, Bill is sharing his experience with graduate students at Harvard Business school. As a result of the tremendous work he had done at the Manchester Bidwell Center in Pittsburg, he was asked to serve as an HBS case study. Here, he made a display of the art that were products of the centre and the structures put in place to ensure effective learning, while also giving an insight into how Manchester Bidwell centre came into being.

He gives an insight into how his early days as a teenager in the ghetto were like in Chapter two of his book. He explains the fact that the ghetto was once a thriving area before industrialists and other individuals who contributed to the success of the area moved away. Nonetheless, his mother helped to ensure they did not shape their lives after their environment. While a student at Oliver high school, he took an interest in pottery from his art teacher, Frank Ross ( this relationship also contributed to his love for jazz music).

As a result of his yearning to allow other poor children to have some sense of satisfaction from arts, he sought for ways to bring his dream to reality. While also a history student at University of Pittsburgh, he also founded the Craftsmen Guild, an art center where programs in ceramics, photography and painting are offered to students. Originally, he sought to improve the lives of the “ghetto kids”, most of whom were junkies, drug addicts, convicts etc, eventually stories of the products he produced from the school, got the attention of individuals in the urban area as well as white kids.

Subsequently, Bill takes the step to make Bidwell, a center that truly represents what it should be at the age of 24 regardless of how a black was perceived at that time. He recreated the center and made it a place to be reckoned with worldwide. Graduates from the school have become a sought after in the country; IBM, amongst others.

It is also evident that Bill did not place any limits on his dream, he also went ahead to acquire a certificate as a flight engineer in order to become a commercial pilot. He converted a mere admiration for orchid into something that every green house and major flower stores yearned for. Against all odds, he established a jazz centre where famous jazz artists did their performances thus attracting a whole lot of new businesses in the area.

Whatever accomplishment Bill has made, he attributes it to an intense pursuit of his dream. In page 59, he explains the fact that “ dreams are just fantasies unless they are rooted in the solid understanding of who you are”. He emphasizes the fact that the place of trusting one’s vision, mission and passion is not to be underestimated especially in making one’s dream a reality:

…Trust your passion, identify your dreams and find the courage to share them with others, no matter how many times they will call you a fool. If your vision has merit, no matter how impossible it may seem, someone would recognize it and help you make it come true. That’s a practical power of a well founded dream…(pg97)

According to him, he has been able to achieve these successes thus far as a result of a genuine passion. He says “ Passion ignores the impossible and gives you the drive you need to do whatever you have to do to make a dream come true, no matter how extreme, or unlikely or absurd those actions might seem”.(pg 151)

From Bill’s story, it is evident that while trying to work in line with our vision, all is not going to be rosy, frustrations would set in in page 86, reference is made to the fact that out of despair, Bill resorted to drinking at Shamrock Inn, a neighbourhood bar. It was recorded that he once had 4 martinis for lunch. This did not deter him, he bounced back on his feet and learnt that challenges are an essential part of life that must be managed properly.

The author’s reference to the power of mentorship is worthy of note. In page 211, he mentions the fact that no one accomplishes anything worthwhile without the help of others, in otherwords, success has never been a ‘solo mission” (pg 217)

Just as every individual tries to identify their source of inspiration and “swing” as the author terms it, Bill attributes his to jazz music. This explains the jazz centre at Manchester Bidwell Center:

…Jazz isn’t just the music, it’s the feeling the music gives you. The feeling is the result of an ability to recognize potential in simple things and ordinary situation, then through improvisation, conviction and skill, turn that potential into something reliable”(pg 106)
…it is a bottomless source of energy and inspiration that reminds me in simple terms why I need to do what I do, it gives me the will and the stamina to keep doing it, despite setbacks and obstacles” (pg 107)

While trying to emphasize the importance of opportunities, the author gives a contrary opinion from the popular notion that having a vision and goal is essential to one’s existence. According to him, “chance occurrences and unforeseen opportunities play a huge role in all our lives. I had no master plan, no grand strategic vision that led me to build Manchester Bidwell…” (pg 104). While this is true in his own case, replication of this by another individual might not prove to be effective.

However, one could deduce the fact that opportunities that one comes across might not necessarily be in line with the goals might just be an avenue to establish the contacts that might be needed for the next phase. In other words, while still following one’s goals, one must not be myopic in the process.

Asides the fact that the use of simple and short sentences makes the piece readable and interesting, another remarkable quality about this book is expressed in the way the author uses real life examples to buttress his point. He gives instances of successful individuals and how they impacted the lives of others. His ability to paint pictures with words is worthy of note.

Conclusively, the author urges us to make a difference in our world. In his words, “you only need to recognize these invitations and respond in a way that suits your ambitions, your values, your resources and your passion”.