Translating the impossible

Ladies and gentlemen, today we shall talk about translation.

What do you mean, translation? We thought this blog was all about Quality Assurance, and, well, you’ve got management and coaching in, as well, alright, but what has translation to do with it?

Naturally. Still, today we shall be talking about translation. Trust me, you will like this translation.

What is the meaning of the concept we imply in the word “translation”?

Translation is a communication concept. It relates the meaning which the one transmitting the message wanted to convey to its receiver, eliminating the obstacles in communication on the way. These obstacles could be, for example, the message being transmitted in a language the receiver does not speak. But not just that, it could be any type of communication noise: culture, speaking ability, ethnicity, wrong use of words… translation eliminates this noise and brings the message over to the receiver in a comprehensible manner.

Ah. OK. So what about it?

Well, the concept we are about to translate is “impossible”.

You know these situations where you sit with your working team, suggesting solutions to a challenge discovered in a process, and you get: “this is impossible to do”.

I remember well how on my first job we had help a meeting with my manager and the Engineering department manager, and his lab manager. And that same lab manager was really a good professional man, but his verbal ability, that is his ability to express himself clearly and be understood, especially in Hebrew (he was Russian immigrant) was, how shall I put it, not his strongest side. And there he is, talking, explaining whatever it was he was saying, and phrase after phrase coming out wrong. And my manager slowly losing his patience, finally cries to the Engineering manager: “Can’t you hear what he’s saying?” And the Engineering manager, sitting as calm unruffled as ever, answered: “It isn’t what he says that matters, but what he means”.

And so it is, that is precisely what translation is all about: to convey to the receiver that which the transmitter means, and not necessarily what he said.

So what do those who say “this is impossible to do” mean?

I shall tell you.

The translation of this phrase is, simply, one of the two:

  • I don’t know how to do this
  • I still haven’t found the way to do this

Now, you may tell me it is virtually the same thing, but I shall argue the difference is vast.

In the first case, when someone says “I do not know how to  do this” they mean they’re giving up, there’s no use trying. They order their brains to stop searching for solution. Don’t know how. Over and out.

On the other hand, in the second scenario there is awareness of the situation being temporary. I haven’t found the solution yet, I must continue searching.

One of the people I admire most in the world was Thomas Edison. Most people know the story of him inventing the way to mass produce the light bulb. I don’t know what else you know about him.

Thomas Edison hasn’t spoken until the age of four. His whole formal education came down to about three months in a one-room village school, upon which the teacher has pronounced him unteachable, having “addled” brains. After that his mom homeschooled him, correctly understanding that all his “strange” behavior was a sign of his superior and extraordinary intelligence.

He was a brilliant businessman, a great inventor, a visionary comparable to but a few. His invention of the light bulb production process was far from being his greatest achievement. One may safely say he is responsible to the whole system of electrification of the United States of America, and thus – the world. He has more patents to his name than anyone else.

But there is one thing one may learn about him from his light bulb research. Some say he made 3,000 attempts before discovering the correct combination, some say – 10,000. It is clear we are talking in the thousands here.

How many combinations would you have tried, before giving up the search for a mission impossible? 50? 100? 500?

Thomas Edison has made thousands!

And when approached about it, informed he was insane to keep on trying in spite of the obvious failures, he has said his well-known phrase:

“I have discovered 10,000 wrong ways, all that is left to do is find 1 correct one”.

So what does “impossible” really mean?

When a baby crawls, learning to walk, he falls time and time again. There is nothing in his meager life experience which can give him the security that he shall succeed. There is no guarantee of success. And yet, do you know anyone who has given up? Who has decided, at that stage, being almost a year onld, that walking is “impossible”? Because he doesn’t know how to do it? And just how many attempts would you allot yourselves? I’ll tell you, you already did: as many as it takes! And you already did, otherwise you never would have learned to walk at all.

And this is a quote by Nelson Mandela, another great man who really knew what he was talking about:

“It always seems impossible until it’s done”.

So when someone tells you “this is impossible to do”, know at once how to translate the phrase correctly. And I suggest that you always choose the second version, and move towards it. The right translation will bring you closer to the solution you are looking for. How long should you keep trying? As long as it takes. Just understand that it merely means “I still haven’t found the way to do this”.

Now, doesn’t that sound much better?

[whistles type=”accordion” group=”like” order=”DESC” orderby=”date” limit=”-1″]



Quality Assurance Engineer ICQE since 1996, Aerospace Engineer B.Sc., Technion graduate. Lecturer in Quality Assurance Engineering for ICQE qualification and in QA since 1996; first at the Kinneret Academic Colledge, the external studies department, then also at other colledge up North (Krayot, Shelomi). Since 2008 - self employed at Maof Dvora: consulting, holding seminars and lectures at plants in the North of Israel. Involved in a wide range of activities and work: education, website design, art, coaching, Judaism and more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *