Mindsets act as short cuts to making sense of situations. But they can lead to blinkered thinking about what business you’re in – writes Scott Guthrie
My two-year-old son didn’t recognise me today. Usually when I pick him up from nursery he spots me a mile off and bounds over throwing his arms around me. Today he didn’t.
We see the world in fixed ways of thinking. Via mindsets. We need mindsets. They act as short cuts to making sense of situations.
Yankelovich, a marketing research firm says in the 1970s we were exposed to 500 marketing messages a day. We now get 5,000. We can’t absorb all of this information. So we pick and choose the bits we think both important and relevant to us and we build our world. As we do our thinking becomes blinkered. Our understanding of the world: partial. Yet we treat our understanding as absolute.
The danger is that we see only what we expect to see. Not what’s there. We ignore the stuff that doesn’t fit our understanding. Or we write it off assuming it to be wrong. So when I picked Douglas up at lunchtime instead of at the end of the day it didn’t make sense to him. I was in the wrong context for him. That’s not the way we do things around here. This was lunchtime not going home time.
At work we often don’t have enough information from which to build an accurate picture. But we’re programmed to make meaning where there is none.
Information that contradicts cherished beliefs can be disturbing. When we feel threatened we draw more heavily on the old ways. The tried-and-tested methods that have worked in the past. We apply old rules mindlessly. We easily miss new approaches.
When stressed it’s harder for us to operate outside these mindsets. Our thinking becomes rigid. When a new idea comes along we swat it down with ‘yes but’. We don’t nurture it with ‘yes and’. We fail to focus on its strengths. We’re not keen on overcoming its weaknesses. So we overlook the bits it’s got in common with what we need to achieve.
Strategy is a unifying theme giving direction to actions. It’s not a detailed plan or even a programme of instruction. It’s a way of matching a firm’s external world of customers, competitors, suppliers and society as a whole with the internal world – what the firm is actually any good at.
“What business are we in?” used to be answered in terms of market. Who are our customers? Which of their needs are we striving to serve? Change is so rapid today it makes more sense to turn to our internal resources and the way they’re bundled up rather than to look outside to secure long-term growth.
Firms have to find a way to challenge mindsets. To turn them on their head. Canon had its first success making 35mm cameras. If it had defined itself as a 35mm camera maker it may have gone the way of Kodak which went bankrupt in 2012. Instead Canon centres products around three capabilities:
This know-how allowed the Japanese company to leave 35mm film behind and to move its product line through calculators, photocopiers and semiconductors.
Perhaps Kodak would have fared better by defining itself by what it did best. Then reframing this into how it could fit this expertise with customers. This might have highlighted its know-how in speciality chemicals for instance.
It’s funny what you think about on the school run.
Scott Guthrie works with companies to drive business growth in the social age through strategic insight and technical know-how. Read my full bio here.