Is There A
Monster Living Under Your Bed?
Holly G. Green
Remember all the things as a young child that you knew to be
fact but later on found out weren’t quite so true? Things like,
every night a monster lives under my bed. When I grow up, I’m going
to be a movie star. If I wish upon a star all my dreams will come
Conventional wisdom says that as we grow older and wiser in
the world, we lose the ability to pretend. That by the time we
reach adulthood, we forget all about how to make stuff up and spend
the rest of our lives in dull reality. Nonsense!
As adults we have an even greater capacity to make stuff up.
And we use this enhanced capacity all the time. The only problem is
that we tend to use our imaginations in negative ways as well as in
ways we don’t recognize as fantasy.
In the business world, we constantly make stuff up based on
assumptions we hold about our customers, competitors, markets,
employees, and the business world in general. In a stable world,
this doesn’t pose much of a problem. In a world where constant
change represents the norm, it can wreak havoc on our businesses.
The problem is
not that we have assumptions and beliefs, it’s that we rarely take
the time to examine them. In today’s world, if the information that
we “know to be true” has been in our heads longer than six months,
there’s a good chance it is no longer valid or is only partly still
true. So we go around acting and making decisions based on
information that may or may not be true.
stuff up) occur in every organization. But at no time do they have
more impact than during the strategic planning process. Here are
some of the most common and harmful MSUs I have encountered:
The avoidance of options for which missing information makes the
probability seem unknown.
The tendency to do or believe things because many other people
do the same.
The tendency to search for or interpret information in a way
that confirms your preconceptions.
The tendency to overestimate the degree to which others agree
The tendency to adopt the opinions of others and follow the
behaviors of the majority in order to feel safer and avoid
The inclination to see past events as being predictable.
The over-estimation of others’ ability to know you and your
ability to know others.
The tendency to seek information even when it cannot affect
The tendency to express undue dislike for something merely
because you are not familiar with it.
The tendency to over-estimate task completion times.
Unconsciously assuming that others share the same or similar
thoughts, beliefs, values or positions as you.
The tendency to engage in behaviors that elicit results that
will (consciously or unconsciously) confirm your beliefs.
The tendency to like things to stay relatively the same.
Keep in mind
that MSUs operate at the unconscious level. People don’t stand up
in meetings and say, “Hey, even though I disagree with everyone, I’m
going along with the crowd because it avoids conflict and makes me
feel comfortable!” But the MSU is definitely there, lurking just
below the level of conscious thought. And it has a real impact on
When MSUs rear
their ugly head, goals get set too low or too high. Opportunities
are missed. Changes in customer needs and expectations get
overlooked. Planning assumptions are made that have no basis in
reality. People choose the status quo over change that needs to
happen. Strategic initiatives get launched that have no chance at
success. The list goes on and on.
How can you
avoid, or at least minimize, the impact of MSUs? Start by becoming
aware they exist. Acknowledge that you and your employees still have
very active imaginations that you use all the time. Then make your
thinking process transparent. During the planning process, put
everyone’s beliefs and assumptions about your customers, competitors
and markets out on the table and challenge them. Ask, “What do we
think we know to be true? Is it still true? If not, what has
changed and how do we need to respond to that change?”
Turn the dial on
your MSU meter from negative to positive. Strategic planning
involves imagining a future for your company and planning what needs
to happen in order to get there. Instead of focusing on problems
and what you can’t do, turn your imaginations toward what you can.
Instead of saying things like, “We can’t do that,” or “That will
never work,” try asking, “What if our assumptions are wrong? What
if we did it this way…?”
business world, it may seem like monsters are everywhere, just
waiting to steal your customers and devour your business. But in
reality, they live inside your organization, feeding off the MSUs
that you and your people make up every day.
The question for
today’s business leaders is not, “Are we making stuff up?” It’s, “What
are we making up and how does it impact our decisions and actions?”
So, what are
your business ‘fantasies’? What are you making up?
Read other articles and learn more about
Holly G. Green.
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