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Chapter II. Mission and Contradiction




So far, we assumed that “Mission” is an obvious notion synonymic to “Achievement of Goal.” This assumption, however, was not correct. If it was so, then what would be a reason to use the synonym? There is only one reason to do so: to confuse the readers. However, this is not our intent. Quite opposite, we want to be absolutely clear. It means, our understanding of “Mission” differs from “Achievement of Goal.”

What do we mean while using the notion of “Mission”? “Accomplish the Mission” means “Achieve the Goal in a way that complies with all Requirements and Limitations imposed on this Goal.”

Smart reader would immediately ask us, “How is it different from our assumption?” The difference is huge.

Let’s take the Mission from movie “Mission: Impossible” (see Appendix 1):

While in flight, Jim Phelps is given a tape containing a covert mission for his team. The team assembles in Prague to prevent an Eastern European diplomat, Golitsyn, from stealing a Non-official cover (NOC) list - a comprehensive list of all covert agents in Eastern Europe.

It seems that accomplishing the goal, “prevent Golitsyn from stealing a NOC list,” is everything the team needs to know. However, in reality there are several requirements and limitations imposed on the way to accomplish this goal. First of all, the team should not either suffer losses or become uncovered. Second, the team should not cause any casualties of uninvolved people. Third, the team should avoid killing Golitsyn. Fourth, the computer containing this list should remain intact. These and many other requirements were not announced, but they are implicit.

Why should we consider these requirements? Without them, the goal could be achieved in multiple “simple” ways. For instance, if team damaged the computer containing the NOC list, the goal would be achieved, but operation would be uncovered. Another way to achieve the goal would be, kill Golitsyn during or after copying the NOC list. One more way to achieve the goal would be kill Golitsyn during the party in the Embassy, even if it would incur the casualties among bystanders. It is clear that such “simple” approaches would uncover both operation and team, which is too high price for result. Hence, team should take quite cumbersome, but efficient approach to accomplish the mission, i.e. achieve the goal and comply with requirements.

So, “accomplishing the Mission” is more difficult than just “achieving the Goal.” On the other hand, it is much more efficient approach, from point of view of consequences and long-term perspective.

Why Mission Becomes Impossible?


Before answering this question, let’s think how the Mission usually becomes accomplished.


Mission does not become accomplished by itself. In order to accomplish a Mission, people should carry out some activity.

As a matter of fact, there are multiple ways to accomplish a Mission. Usually, people chose one way that seems the most feasible and reasonable under existing circumstances. Let’s call this chosen way “Intent.” So, Intent involves an Activity that participates in achievement of Goal and complies with imposed Requirements.

Any Intent is feasible and reasonable only under some circumstances. If these circumstances change, Intent achieves the Goal less efficiently and stops complying with some Requirements.

Let’s consider the Mission of IMF (Impossible Missions Force) team described above. The plan (Intent) designed by Jim Phelps was quite feasible and reasonable, and team agreed with it. So, if the circumstances were appropriate, the Mission could be accomplished successfully.

Then, one circumstance changed: a mole has infiltrated the IMF. As a result, team was unable to prevent Golitsyn stealing the NOC list, most of team members were killed, and Golitsyn was killed, too. Team failed to accomplish the Mission.

The only hope to accomplish the Mission is still alive Ethan Hunt. He is capable, with some support from IMF, find out who killed his teammates and stole the disk with NOC list. However, the IMF director Eugene Kittridge suspects that Ethan Hunt, the only survivor, is the mole. As a result, Ethan Hunt could be taken into custody before he can clear his name. In this case, Mission cannot be accomplished at all.

Now, we see the comprehensive scenario: Mission becomes impossible to accomplish because changed circumstance affected the Mission, and the only way to correct its affect is hindered by insurmountable obstacle.

This “Mission: Impossible” situation could be shown as the following model:


Fig. 5.Mole inside the IMF frames Ethan Hunt
and renders the IMF team Mission impossible to accomplish


What is the Mission? Prevent Golitsyn from stealing a NOC list in a way that complies with secrecy of IMF team activities and no losses in IMF team. Carrying out the IMF team operation was an Intent to accomplish this Mission. However, mole inside the IMF prevented accomplishment of this Mission. Ethan Hunt could reveal the mole and thus correct the situation, but Kittridge’s suspicion that he is the mole became an insurmountable obstacle to this correction attempt. Mission became impossible.



Let’s consider this “Mission: Impossible” situation as a contradiction.

First, what does the notion of “contradiction” mean? Merriam-Webster suggests the following definition:

a situation in which inherent factors, actions, or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another.


In our case, Contradiction means a situation in which overt directions to accomplish the Mission are contrary to one another and cannot accomplish this Mission.

In case of already considered Mission: Impossible, we could find the following overt directions:

  1. Continue carrying out the IMF team operation despite of presence of mole in the IMF. This direction cannot accomplish the Mission because mole’s activities resulted in loss of entire IMF team, death of Golitsyn and disappearance of disk with NOC list.

  2. Stop carrying out the IMF team operation due to presence of mole in the IMF. This direction looks the most reasonable, but it does not accomplish the Goal: prevent stealing of NOC list.

  3. Let Ethan Hunt reveal the mole and correct the situation. This direction is a trade-off, but it does not work, either. Ethan Hunt is the suspect, and, according the CIA policy, he should be taken into custody.


This contradiction becomes clear when Ethan Hunt meets Eugene Kittridge at the café. As any contradiction, it is vividly unsolvable. And that is what makes that movie a classic whodunit.

In real life contradictions occur quite often, but they are not that entertaining as in the movies. Especially if you face a contradiction, and resolving it is a matter of life or death. This is the reason to learn how to handle the contradictions: survival of yourself, of your loved ones, of your fellow men, of your business. In the world of frequent crises, this capability becomes the must.

Analyzing the Mission: Impossible

Before trying to discover ways to accomplish the “Mission: Impossible,” we should analyze the situation. Without thorough analytical work, it would be quite difficult to find adequate, implementable solution.

Analytical work aims at reaching an understanding of opportunities to change the situation. How the situation should be changed? First of all, the changes should be implementable. If we cannot implement the solution, we cannot change the situation and accomplish the Mission. Second, the changes should be feasible. They should not contradict the Laws of Nature and should be realized with means and methods available “here and now.” Third, these changes should guarantee accomplishment of Mission.

Analytical work consists of the following activities: splitting the integral situation into components and revealing the relevant links between these components.

At a glance, “Mission: Impossible” situation comprises two main components: Mission that should be accomplished and Contradiction that renders accomplishment of Mission impossible. These components of “Mission: Impossible” are tightly interconnected.

Components and Links between them play different roles in our analytical work.

Role of Components


Components of situation serve for documenting the client’s story.

Contradiction represents the portion of story that describes why client needs a help. As any text, either written or said, Contradiction has “linear” structure. For example, Contradiction on Fig. 5 says, “Mole inside the IMF hinders IMF team carrying out the operation. If Ethan Hunt could reveal the mole, then he might correct the situation. However, Kittridge suspects that Ethan is the mole, and thus prevents him to clean up the mess.”

Mission represents the other portion of story that describes what client needs to accomplish with our help. Mission has “linear” structure, too. In Fig. 4 we see the following Mission: “IMF team should prevent Golitsyn from stealing a NOC list without suffering losses or uncovering their activities.”

Role of Links


In our minds, we keep the stories as a network. Each Event is somehow related to many other Events. These relationships bring separate Events into single story. We call these relationships “Links.”

Actually, Links attach unique meaning to every story. Different stories can comprise the same or similar events, and only unique relationships between these events give each story the unique meaning. Sometimes, it is enough to miss one Link to miss the meaning of entire story. Misunderstanding of one Link might cause misunderstanding of story and its meaning.

For example, in the Contradiction above we miss one Link, “Kittridge’s suspicion prevents Ethan to clean up the mess.” From the movie we know that Kittridge, based on this suspicion, was going to take Hunt into custody immediately, thus incapacitating his attempt to do anything “in field” and thus accomplish the team’s Mission. This understanding describes the Link in this specific situation.

If we assume another understanding of Link between these two Events, we would get different story. For instance, Kittridge, based on suspicion, decides to organize surveillance by other IMF agents. In this case, Hunt’s activities would be controlled and reported, but not hindered. Then, Hunt might get a chance to accomplish the team’s Mission. We could have different movie, eh?

What Links are involved in the “Mission: Impossible” story? How are they structured?

Let’s continue using the story on Fig. 5.

IMF team carries out the operation accomplishes preventing Golitsyn from stealing a NOC list.

Mole inside the IMF hinders “no losses” requirement. On the other hand, operation was planned and carried out in a way that enforces compliance with “no losses” requirement.

If Ethan Hunt could reveal the mole, it could correct compliance with “no losses” requirement in the future stages of operation. Of course, it wouldn’t revive the dead teammates, but could prevent future losses of IMF agents.

Moreover, if Ethan Hunt could reveal the mole, it could enforce compliance with “keep secret” requirement to IMF team Missions. However, Kittridge’s suspicion hinders both ability of Hunt to reveal the mole and compliance with “keep secret” requirement.

This is the typical structure of “Mission: Impossible” situations.


Domains and Seams | "Mission: Impossible": How to Successfully Accomplish It | How to Collect Information

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