Future Proof Your Thinking

Stop the World I Want to Get Off opened on Broadway in the 1960s, and decades later the cliché still takes center stage in our quest to maintain the status quo as changes engulf us at a dizzying pace. Adopting an “everything is fine” mentality creates the illusion that we can safely hide, ostrich style, while dynamic changes transform our world. Jack Welch, retired CEO of General Electric, declared this challenge: “If the rate of change within an organization is not equal to or greater than the rate of change surrounding that organization, the organization will die!” Firms that fail to keep pace with change do not thrive.

Success without change is a myth. How many would have imagined that one of the largest lodging companies owns no property (Airbnb), or one of the largest transportation companies owns no vehicles (Uber)? The winds of change are relentless despite our resistance to the speed at which they are advancing. We grasp for the familiar and hold on to what we know. Regardless of our desire to not “mess with success” without change our future evolvement is lost.     

The Mayo Clinic has a well-earned reputation for patient care. Despite accolades and praise, they recognized the value of fixing what is not broken. In 2008, the same year Lehman collapsed, the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees launched an initiative to restructure their programs for adolescent care, reducing the average time to diagnosis illness. They also discovered ways to reduce the use of anesthesia and imaging. Doctors bristled at some of the modifications that impacted their routines, including cardiac surgery practices. However, they saw the handwriting on the wall indicating that without new methodologies, the future would include increasing costs while reimbursements would be reduced.

Mayo Clinic could have proudly accepted their status as one of the top clinics and ignored options to dig deeply and adjust to changing realities.

Instead, they burst through the “we are great” bubble to broaden their perspective and search for new opportunities. As Daniel Kahneman reported in Thinking: Fast or Slow, “We tend to think that what we see is all that there is to see. We adopt blinders to shield us from contradictory information.”  We skim over, or discount, data that does not support our beliefs. We get stuck in the narrow space of present reality instead of creating space for broad innovation.

To counter our tendencies to rely solely on information that matches our assumptions and to depend on information from known sources, we can act to expand narrow thinking. Consider the following options for avoiding confirmation bias:

  1. Allocate time for reflection, analysis, and imagination. The KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) has only an element of truth in it. Dynamic factors and new realities are rarely simple. H. L. Mencken captured this truth by saying, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem” neat, plausible and wrong.” We must go beyond what has always been done if we are to stretch our capacity and secure our future.
  2. Identify “motivated reasoning” where rational analysis twists to substantiate current practices. Retaining existing procedures offers comfort, but blinds us to wiser alternatives. Smart choices mean we must consider new ideas to address the cresting waves of change. Standing still in a quicksand environment is terminal. As Einstein stated, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking we used when we created them.”
  3.  Recognize the importance of asking probing questions. As Dr. E. Edwards Deming remarked, “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.” Wisdom requires the search for new possibilities and alternatives. Expand your mindsets to see around corners, detect trends, examine implications and identify new opportunities.
  4. Accept the fact that the greatest obstacle to our future is not ignorance, but the illusion that we already know all that we need to know. Greater specialization has produced benefits but it also introduces problems. Specialists often adopt a narrow frame of reference and lose sight of interdependencies embedded in the big picture. We must dig deeper and search more broadly to detect new knowledge and insights by asking what is new, what have we learned and what novel resources or business models should we tap. Mark Twain observed, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It is what we know for sure that just ain’t so.
  5. Resist peer pressure and the temptation to go along with the crowd. We may become caught up by enthusiasm for a new initiative but step lightly and don’t just go with the flow, because group-think usually conceals flaws. For a secure future, go outside the established parameters and strategically consider all mindsets to fully understand alternatives, risks, and opportunities.

We cannot stop the world–and we should not. Our future lies in embracing possibility thinking, adopting new mindsets, and leveraging change instead of watching from the sidelines. We can learn to see events as they are, address our mental traps, apply critical thinking practices and commit to casting aside status quo thinking in favor of proactive wisdom. The future is where we will spend the rest of our lives. We must study to understand trends that position us for continual success.

This article was first published at BizCatalyst360.

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