Another enjoyable story from the “other Tom.” The NLP uses are much more subtle here, and I think you’re ready for them. 😉
What a funny word. It’s a word that creates its own reality.
“I can’t do that — it’s impossible!”
Let me tell you about some rat cages I saw in a research
lab years ago.
I was the founding CEO of a company that manufactured
high-frequency pest repelling equipment, and as part of my
research, I had occasion to tour some animal testing labs.
I was looking for a place to do some tests on rodent hearing
and behavior, and I wanted the best. At that time, Stanford
Research International (SRI) in Menlo Park was one of the
top labs on the West Coast.
The guy who led me through the labs was a scientist, and we
had a fascinating time that afternoon. I saw my breath hatch
a million flea eggs from across the room in one lab.
But that’s another story. What I wanted to tell you about
right now was what I learned about rats.
We were passing some empty labs and I noticed a pile of
shiny steel cages near the door.
“Are those new cages for rodents?” I asked.
“Nope, those are waiting to get recycled. They will melt
them down and re-use the steel. They’re no good.”
They looked brand new to me.
“What’s wrong with them?” I asked.
“C’mere and look at this” he said. He opened one of the
cages and pointed to a spot near the rear corner. It looked
a little more polished than the rest of the cage.
“Watch this.” He said. He pushed his finger against the
steel wall of the cage, and it poked right through like it
was tin foil!
Then he explained. “You see, the rats don’t know that it’s
impossible for them to get out of these steel cages. So as
soon as we put them into the cages, they go to the rear
corner and start gnawing.”
“That’s ridiculous.” I said, “Steel is harder than rat’s
“Right, but the rats don’t know that. So they gnaw at the
back corner, wearing their teeth down. And their teeth keep
growing all during the rat’s life. And they keep gnawing,
day after day, week after week, gradually wearing away their
teeth, but also removing a few molecules of steel.
“When a rat dies it is replaced, and the new rat goes to the
same corner and starts where the other rat left off. After a
couple of years, the cages all get like this. We have to
throw them away.”
He opened another cage and invited me to test the spot at
the rear corner, and I also found the polished spot and
pushed, and my finger just poked through.
“We have an instrument that measures the thickness of the
cage walls, and when they get this close to breakthrough we
remove them from service.”
There were piles of shiny steel cages that had been
destroyed by rats.
I’ve thought a lot about those lab rats during the years
since I toured SRI. I thought about the mindless faith they
must have had, that they could gnaw their way out of those
Day after day, rat after rat. Until the steel finally gives
in to the softer — but more persistent — rat’s teeth.
The rats never knew it was impossible. They just kept using
the tools they had, their teeth, until they had defeated the
most sophisticated research lab on the West Coast.
And they were just rats. But they never gave in, never gave
up. They just kept at the impossible until it became
If a rat can do that what can we accomplish, if we decide to
maybe rethink our ideas about what’s impossible?
I invite you to think about what you may have dismissed —
too soon — as impossible.
Perhaps you too can turn the impossible into the inevitable.
You don’t want to let a rat outthink you, do you?