Step 1 – Forget everything you know

It is funny how some of the most basic ideas get lost in the static of all of the newest fads, ideas, technologies, & management tips of the week.  In some recent conversations, the one thing that came out repeatedly was the challenge we face of “already knowing that”.  I think this stems from two separate issues and they are:

  • the need to prove that we are knowledgeable (fear of looking stupid or inept)
  • the desire to do things faster and check them off the list

These are things that we all suffer from in some degree and that are so deeply ingrained in us that most likely are not even conscious of them.  This gets to the core issue – challenging our own assumptions.  The irony is that we are skilled and adept at challenging others but not so agile when it comes to the person in the mirror.  If you would like to experience this firsthand in a very personal manner, click on this link and follow the directions.  It is Johari Window process (you can read more about it when you visit the site).  To ensure it is completely accurate you will also need 5-6 of your friends and/or business associates to assist you by visiting the site as well but it will take them less than 90 seconds to do it.  This is just an example of how we are “blind” to our assumptions even though they belong to us.  In order to make better decisions, we need to look at things with a “beginner’s mind” and stop thinking we already know.

This can dramatically affect organizations when they are in the process of strategic planning (although I am not sure why we refer to it as this as I am not aware of any non-strategic planning sessions).  During this process, there are many tools & models that are used (SWOT, 5 Forces, KSFs, Competitor Profiling, PEST analysis, Driving Forces, etc) to assist us in gaining some perspective on the opportunities in the marketplace.  The problem is that there are times we move into these types of processes with the “strategy” we want to pursue clearly identified in our mind) and try to find a way to prove this is the best approach.  The problem with this is that we tend to discount any data that does not confirm our opinion.  Obviously this is not really a conscious decision (at least let’s hope not) because the real purpose of any planning process is to gain insights which could help us make better decisions.  This takes us back to the need to be knowledgeable and the mistaken belief that, as a business leader, we are somehow omnipotent (or need to be).  The one skill all business leaders should focus on developing is pattern recognition because this is the foundation of strategic planning.  It is also provides great relief once we accept that we do not have to know it all, all the time.

So the next time you are going to “be strategic”, remember to go into the process “blank”.  Forget everything you think you know and look at the data with a beginner’s mind because “in a beginner’s mind there are many options, in an expert’s mind there are few.”

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Filed under Complexity, Decision Making, Futuring, Strategy, Systems Thinking

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