Can't Never Did Nothing

SEMA News—September 2017

Can't Never Did Nothing

By Craig Schmutzler

I cannot begin to count how many times I heard this phrase when I was growing up. My dad was a mechanic who worked incredibly hard for every dollar he earned. He always smelled like a garage (not a bad thing) and frequently had to work on his own car or home after a long day of work or over a well-deserved weekend. It didn’t matter if the problem was electrical-, mechanical- or plumbing-related, my dad tackled it and usually beat it. I often provided an extra set of hands on those projects. Any mechanical aptitude I have, and every bit of my stubbornness, comes from him.

The one word my father could not abide was can’t. He was not the first to utter the phrase, “Can’t never did nothing,” but he is certainly the one I heard it from first and most often. When I struggled with my own projects and attempts at success, I would sometimes become overwhelmed to the point of saying, “I can’t.” My dad was always quick to correct me and provide much-needed direction and wise counsel regarding my attitude.

Can’t is a word that is entirely too prevalent in business. We hear it when decisions are being made regarding where to spend resources. We hear it when we are examining the viability of a new project. We hear it from customer-service teams when we are seeking support. Truth be told, can’t is sometimes the answer, but it shouldn’t be the first answer. If can’t or won’t is your first response to a new opportunity, you are bound to miss something great.

Can’t responses are often the result of one of two causes: skill or will.

A skill issue is related to an actual inability to perform a task or contribute to a project in a meaningful way. In simple terms, a skill-related can’t response can be interpreted as “I don’t know how, so trying makes me uncomfortable.” With skill issues, there may be an actual desire to help; the ability simply isn’t there. Fortunately, most skill issues can be resolved with a bit of well-directed coaching and training. It is much easier for people to say yes when they feel comfortable with their ability to perform.

Will issues can be a bit more complex. A will-related can’t response can be interpreted as “I don’t want to.” This phrase can mean a myriad of things: “I don’t have time.” “I don’t have enough resources.” “I don’t see value in what you are proposing.” The list is long. Successful business people are adept at determining why others respond with the word can’t. Good salespeople fully grasp the importance of understanding and overcoming reluctance in a supportive and consultative way.

As important as it may be to understand why others say can’t, we need to be careful about monitoring and understanding our own responses. Before you say can’t or won’t, be certain you know why that is your response. It is easy to say “I can’t” because you don’t know how. If the pursuit is worthwhile for your business, learn or find somebody else in your organization who is capable.

It is easy to say, “I can’t” because you don’t want to. It may be that you don’t think you have the time or that the process you have in place has always worked just fine. Do yourself and your organization the courtesy of an honest examination of the value of a project or pursuit before you say no. Progress is rarely easy; however, it is almost always worth the effort.

Consider these wise words from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right.” 

To learn more about how you can take control and manage your product data at the lowest possible cost, contact SEMA Data Co-op Membership Manager Allen Horwitz via email at or by phone at 888-958-6698 x9

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