‘We are all products of our time. If change is to happen we all have to change ourselves.’

Mikhail Gorbachev

A change mindset

The shape of tomorrow is changing, and fast. To not only keep up, but to thrive we need to adjust our personal mindset. Whether you perceive change as a threat or opportunity, whether it excites or depresses you, can be your choice.

Given that change is the only reality in life, as in business; it is extraordinary that we spend so much time and invest so much energy in trying to maintain the status quo.

Many would say that the most important job of a leader or professional manager is to make change happen. To do this you may want to challenge your assumptions about the world.

The lens through which we perceive the world is made up of our own attitudes and assumptions, which act as a filter on reality.

As Adam Smith said:

‘When we are in the middle of a paradigm it is hard to imagine any other paradigm.’

This would not be a problem for businesses if they stayed in a single paradigm indefinitely. But given the accelerating pace of change, the life expectancy of any one framework is getting shorter and shorter.

There is no objective reality; the rules and regulations which define how we do business keep shifting. When a paradigm shifts, the obvious and predictable are not what occurs. The old ways of doing things no longer work, doing more and better than what you did before won’t do the trick.

Rather, we have to re-examine and throw out some of our comfortable old assumptions.

‘The real act of discovery lies not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.’

Marcel Proust

A practical example

Take the Swiss watch industry, for example. When there was a paradigm shift from mechanical watches to electronic technology the Japanese quickly recognized it, acted on the shift and captured the market.

The Swiss didn’t say ‘the paradigm has shifted’, instead they clung to the old rules and tried to create even better bearings and mainsprings: fiddling while Rome burnt.

Their resistance isn’t surprising. When you have been successful by the rules of the old game, there is no guarantee that you will be successful in the new, and this can create substantial anxiety.

Moving forward

If we fail to achieve a mind-shift in our thinking, we will become the dinosaurs with the old world view who cannot take advantage of a new order.

Accelerating rates of change pose us with a tremendous challenge of almost constantly reassessing and revaluing our personal assumptions and of developing considerable flexibility of thought: if there are two courses of action always take the third.

We need to break out of the ‘box’, developing second-order problem-solving skills because we cannot solve problems at the same level of thought with which we created them.

A well-known example is the nine dots problem, shown below, where the solution lies not in first-order thinking but in a radical shift of perspective outside the box formed by the pattern of dots.

The nine dots problem
In this problem-solving exercise you must join these nine dots with four straight lines without taking your pencil off the paper. 

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When there is a paradigm shift, it’s almost as if we have to transport ourselves to another planet from which we see both familiar and unfamiliar objects in a new light. When we choose to see the world in new ways we literally change the world that is there for us to see.

This is the essence of innovation.

Emotion follows action

Take Tom Sawyer reframing the problem of being told that he can’t go out to play but must repaint the picket fence in his garden. He shifted his paradigm from ‘I’m miserable, I can’t go out’ to ‘This is fun’. Suddenly it was fun! All his friends joined in and Tom as a budding entrepreneur had created the opportunity to charge them each sixpence for the pleasure!

Adjust your mindset and, when enough people tell you the change you want to make is ‘impossible’, you are probably on the right track!

There are some marvellous techniques of creative thinking around which will help you to see the world in new ways, for example Edward de Bono’s famous lateral thinking exercises, looking at problems in the form of pictures rather than words, using ‘metaphors’, brainstorming, scenario writing, day-dreaming.

All these techniques help us challenge our mindsets, make new connections and open ourselves up to the possibilities of change.

Where will change take your business this year?

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