“You Don’t Know What Cannot Be Done.” – Toland

In an interview of Orson Welles by Dick Cavett, Welles recounts the following situation early in his career. While beginning to make his first film, Citizen Kane, he was approached by cameraman Gregg Toland.

[Toland enters Welles’ office . . .]
Toland: I want to work in your picture; my name is Toland.
Welles: Why do you, Mr. Toland?
Toland: Because you’ve never made a picture, and you don’t know what cannot be done.

Leading up to his description of that brief conversation, Welles makes the following statement: “. . . Ignorance – there’s no authority in the world like it.” Welles’ and Toland’s statements really caught my attention. I’ve seen a similar saying by Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”; that brings a couple more to mind: “It always seems impossible until it’s done” (Nelson Mandela), and, “They did not know it was impossible so they did it” (Mark Twain).

Inexperience is both a blessing and curse. Being blind to what is and is not possible, you may be willing to take risks more-experienced people would not; you’ll bring a fresh perspective and perhaps even attempt to do what others know “cannot be done”; that means you’ll probably fail quite a bit, but in challenging assumptions you will discover which ones are true and which are false. Young blood can really shake up an industry.

I greatly appreciate the wisdom of Solomon to “Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life” (Proverbs 4:13); listening to the counsel of wiser people is vital to our growth; but I also see value in respectfully, humbly challenging the presuppositions of those who came before us and proving the truth for ourselves. As another wise man once said, “Just because something seems impossible, doesn’t mean it isn’t easy” (Parkinson’s Law #21, T. S. Parkinson).

Citizen Kane went on to be enormously successful; though, I’ve not seen the film in a while, so I don’t necessarily recommend it, but rather the philosophy described by Welles and the others I’ve mentioned. Though experience is certainly desirable, your being a novice doesn’t have to be a negative.

Read more wise & witty sayings.

2 thoughts on ““You Don’t Know What Cannot Be Done.” – Toland”

  1. T.S. Parkinson

    I agree – many and perhaps most “impossibles” are possible. I don’t let claims of “it’s impossible” dissuade me; in fact, it inspires me. Novices often see solutions from an unfettered perspective and some of the most creative people are new hires. I’ve attempted things others with more experience, training and resources have attempted, failed to make work, and declared impossible – and yet have succeeded – partly because thinking outside the box and questioning expert presuppositions reveals new insights and ways of doing things. The Spirit of God gives knowledge of witty inventions. Proverbs 8:12. Experts can be in thinking ruts due to pressure-cooker training and professional traditions – which can be good for routine things but bad for creativity and novel solutions to perplexing problems.

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