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.

Success Mindsets For Astute Scanning

By: Dr. Mary Lippitt | March 20, 2017

We all recognize that better decisions follow reliable data collection. However, obtaining it remains a challenge. Too often we accept a penetrating glimpse of the obvious or past practice since it is safe and efficient to keep doing what we have always done.  Unfortunately, this tendency keeps us in an echo chamber where old assumptions reside and reverberate.mindsets

Generating valuable current information requires a new approach. We just cannot wish for insight, we must adopt practices that ensure that we really know what has happened, what is happening and what will happen. Otherwise, we pay a heavy price for being blindsided, surprised or shocked by events. Volkswagen’s emission control software or Wells Fargo cross-selling requirements illustrate the dangers of siloed thinking and superficial analysis.  These failures were not a matter of low IQ or inexperience. They were created by constrained frames of reference or restricted mindsets. Just as looking only one way before crossing the street is foolhardy, relying on one slice of information before making an organizational decision is wrong.

The term mindset has various interpretations. My definition centers on a willingness to investigate all situational facets when confronting complexity.   Let me give an everyday example, if you saw raining pouring down outside, you will likely decide to wear a raincoat rather than a wool jacket.   Your decision is independent of personal style or education.   Your choice depended on current information or realities. Certainly, organizational conundrums are more complex than picking outerwear but the process of assessing conditions before acting applies to both personal and business decisions.  We must collect and weigh information to make smart decisions. Lazy thinking is risky behavior. We need to keep on top of events to excel.

Exploring six organizational mindsets deliver success and avoid blunders.  The six mindsets cover what:

  • new or innovative offerings can be launched;
  • customers want and need;
  • systems, infrastructure, and policies improve alignment;
  • processes improve the bottom line;
  • staffing and culture support sustained excellence; and
  • trends and alliance create new opportunities.

Understanding and using six operational aspects does not require a Ph.D.  Instead, we need a willingness to collect information and this collection can be easily guided by a checklist of questions for each mindset. While checklists appear simplistic, professionals rely on them. Surgeons, lawyers, and pilots consult checklists to confirm all aspects have been covered. Leaders who use a success mindset checklist develop a complete environmental scan.

Success follows a “ready, aim, fire” sequence, where being ready requires a complete investigation, aiming evaluates alternatives and firing is the decision on action to take. Certainly reducing the process to “ready, fire” appears tempting but it hides a high cost. Complexity and change demand full reality check. And, it pay-offs by avoiding having to spend time recalling, re-issuing or repairing misguided decisions. Astute scanning advances your reputation conserves resources and ensures delivers desired results.

First published at:  https://www.bizcatalyst360.com/success-mindsets-for-astute-scanning/

Effective Leaders Know When to Hold and When to Fold

By Mary Lippitt | June 7, 2011effective Leaders

If leaders keep on doing what they have always done, they will get the same results, which is a recipe for disaster. Both leaders and poker players need to know “when to hold and when to fold.” Effective leaders need to decipher the internal and external environment and adjust plans to actual reality and opportunities.

US Airways’ Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s success in dealing with total engine power loss with a clear decision to land in the Hudson River stemmed from his ability to prioritize goals. In his biography, Sully talks about “goal sacrificing” having to select which goal is the most critical to act on. He accepted the loss of a multi-million dollar plane to save lives. He was able to make that decision only because he was clear about his priorities and the situation.

How effective are your leaders in dealing with change or handling unanticipated problems? Are your leaders prepared to make mid-course adjustments or do they keep on trucking with their plan on a pre-determined route no matter what is happening around them?

Concentrating on results, or leading with the “end in mind,” is one of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.He stresses the importance of starting with the “end in mind.” But what happens when the start, middle or end changes? Staying the course or achieving what is no longer desirable should not be seen as an accomplishment. In fact, it can threaten an organization’s survival. Leaders who know how to keep their “eye on today’s key prize” based on current circumstances are those who succeed.

A solid understanding of the six business priorities helps leaders adjust to critical priorities and avoid being blindsided by “unanticipated” events. It is not just in hindsight that financial executives should have recognized that giving 90 to 95% mortgages was too risky. Experts were warning about a real estate bubble, and yet leaders continued to make mortgages. One bank executive summarized his decision making process by saying that “I know this thing will blow up, but as long as the music is playing, I have to dance.”

As Peter Drucker observed, “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” Can your leaders deliver the right results are at the right time in the right way and at the right cost? We cannot expect leaders to control events, but we can expect them to act wisely.

Effective leadership requires not only personal awareness and skills, but also business insight and judgment. Captain Sully knew how to prioritize his goals. He did not try to save the plane, and he did not try to make it to an alternative airport. He understood his resources, his situation, his team, and his key goal, resulting in a lifesaving landing. Are you doing all you can to help your leaders understand the critical goals and what it will take to achieve them? It should be your critical priority right now.