The progress of computers and software has taught us, that there are not many things that can not be done. Linux, Google, Facebook, cloud computing, open source etc. has shocked us with solutions we hadn’t even dreamed about. Still, I often hear (and use myself) this phrase: “it can’t be done”. This post is about trying to understand what is really hidden behind these words.

Peter Ustinov

No Time

Sometimes this simply means, that I don’t have time for this. Sometimes I don’t even have time to think if it is a good idea. I have so little time, that I don’t really care if it can or can not be done. I just don’t care. All I care about is to kill this idea before you get excited and make me ponder it over. So I say “it can’t be done” hoping that you’ll take this excuse for real, forget about it, and I will not be burdened with another task (because I really don’t have time, got it?).


I know nothing about this, and I feel incompetent. But because I’m afraid or ashamed to acknowledge it, I will tell you that “it can’t be done” in order to:

  • make you think that I know the subject,
  • convince you that there is no point in even trying.

We Really Can’t Do It

I know a lot about this, and I know, that if we were to discuss the details, we would end up with a conclusion, that this is too costly or that we more important things to do. Whatever the reason, I’m 100% sure, that we would end up deciding not to do it. So to spare us both the troubles of discussing it, I tell you that “it can’t be done”.

Not On My ToDo List

I know it can be done, but I have other more pressing (or interesting) things on my mind, or I am too lazy to do it. So I will tell you that “it can’t be done”, in hope that you get off.

Never Ever Before

If I tell you that “it can’t be done”, then I can simply mean, that we have never done it like that before. It also means I’m afraid to try. I’m afraid, because we may fail, and I don’t like failing at all. But I’m also afraid that it might work out pretty well. And then we would discover that we were doing things wrong (or suboptimal) all the time, that the new way is better, faster, easier, cheaper.
As you can see, it is simply safer to say that it can’t be done…

What Is Your Excuse?

Now, every time someone tells me, that “it can’t be done” I wonder which one of the above does he mean…