Ever been handed a completely impossible promise by your boss with the expectation that you will find a way to “make it happen?” If so, you are in good company. Imagine the spot General Black Jack Pershing found himself in upon his arrival in Europe during The Great War. As the commander of the American Expeditionary Force he was under pressure from his French and British allies to assign his troopers to their units, exactly the opposite of his orders from the War Department. He first had to arrange to get his still-in-training troops and their weapons to Europe via ships that were already booked full of war materials. Sounds like the worst promise ever made by any sales department but it gets worse. Back in the States, every politician and newspaper publisher was adding to his woes with outrageous promises on weapon and aircraft production.
Pershing had a war to win and delegated well. Some of the promises faded away, others were solved in very creative ways. One of the solutions was Spam, the canned meat product. By deboning and canning the meat before putting it on the ship they saved 60% of the space and eliminated the need for refrigeration. The Hormel Company deserved a Presidential citation and may have won the war by freeing up space for troops.
Other creative solutions were not so effective; there are some great diving spots .on the James River in Virginia where the remains of the Great Wooden Fleet were left to rot following the war’s end.
Pershing and the AEF did not keep all the promises assigned to them but they did deliver on the most important one; they won the war. Scholars can debate what would have happened had the Doughboys stayed home all they want but the stalemate of trench warfare ended within months of an aggressive new army entering the battlefield.
So when your sales department overpromises to get an order, remember that conventional thinking didn’t come up with Spam. And Spam helped get the doughboys to Europe; your delivery dilemma may need some Spam-inspired thinking.