Updated: Apr 29, 2021
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so" - Mark Twain. The longer we do something the more engrained we become in our thoughts, assumptions, and perspectives. Unfortunately for folks with a fixed mindset, the world is evolving at an accelerating pace, and if we don't continue to evolve with it we become less relevant as time goes on.
We like knowing, making assumptions, categorizing, and having answers to everything because it makes us feel safe in a world where we are the center of the universe and everything can seem like a threat to our goals. If left unchecked our world gets smaller, our opinions harden and our ability to evolve and adapt becomes increasingly limited. You know this is happening because performance in whatever you are attempting stagnates, declines, or requires more time and resources to produce diminishing results.
Here is a four-part exercise to gain a deeper and wider perspective on the things that matter to your business, leadership team, services, clients, and performance.
Validate and invalidate critical assumptions. Consider some of the following questions or makeup questions that are more relevant to your business.
Are your products and services as good as you think they are?
Are your clients aware of all the value you offer them?
Do you have the leadership/staff talent to meet your growth needs?
Do your products and services really offer a competitive advantage?
Identify your top 3-5 must-haves you have counted on for your business to thrive. Some examples:
People must always occupy office buildings for our commercial real estate services to thrive?
People must eat in the dining rooms of our fast-food restaurants to be successful?
Patients must be allowed to visit doctors in person to receive quality medical care.
Vaccine development takes 8-10 years to effectively and safely develop and has always been based on a live portion of the virus itself.
Imagine you are forced to do without one or more must-haves. Comfort usually means complacency, so businesses should proactively put themselves in uncomfortable situations and ask difficult questions. This exercise is effective because it forces revolutionary thinking versus incremental thinking. In all four of the examples (a-d) above, industries were forced to do without some of their must-haves. For example, Commercial real estate firms learned to adapt to workers being shut out of office buildings, Chick-fil-A shut its dining rooms to all customers and had a record year of revenue and profit, Telemedicine advanced 10 years in only 12 months because people couldn't go to the doctor's office but still needed medical care. mRNA technology allowed Pfizer to develop and trial a safe and 95% effective vaccine in 10 months.
Learn from great minds. What can you learn from the great minds of industry, science, arts, and history to guide your business forward? “I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart. - Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman Berkshire Hathaway. When you study great minds and innovators you can ask what would so and so have done with our business? Reading books is still the fastest way to broaden your perspective and deepen your knowledge.
Step back from your daily operations 2-3 times a year and ask difficult questions about your teams, services, clients, and competition. You can do the exercise by yourself and or with your leadership team. An outside facilitator can be useful to keep the conversation moving forward, positive, challenge assumptions and ask the difficult questions that insiders may be hesitant or unable to ask for obvious reasons. There has to be an environment of raw honesty and people have to feel safe calling out and admitting mistakes to get the full value of the exercise.