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Challenge Your Assumptions

Or you’ll be planning for a world that no longer exists

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

We have an addition to the Denver business community, ChangeLabs and its founder and CEO, Peter Sheahan, author of six books including Flip, Generation Y, and Making It Happen. I was fortunate to hear Peter speak at a recent Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) CEO breakfast. His presentation was too inspiring—and foundational—to go unshared.

ChangeLabs, a strategic global consultancy, is in the business of creating measurable change, questioning assumptions as a part of that broader goal. Challenging our inherent assumptions is a crucial way to respond to all-encompassing change in careful, considered ways. It’s no longer safe to stick to basic and trusted business practices like, for example, planning and measuring results against the three-year plan—which in today’s timeframes can be way too long. Or, in bestseller Flip lingo, “Stick to what you learned in business school at your peril.”

We need to meet continuous change with continuous evaluation of even the tried and true, to see whether it applies to this situation, in this moment in time. Not to say it won’t apply, but it probably won’t. And how will you know unless you challenge it? Daily, weekly, monthly assumption challenges should be driving our decisions—while we’re standing on our toes with minds open and flexible.

As Peter pointed out, “Change is slow until it is not.” Our decisions should be more future facing, he says and, in addition to advising that we challenge our assumptions, he suggests several ways we can be more attuned to the future: be clear and aligned; take slow, intelligent risks; proactively position yourself; and go out to your clients and problem-solve together. This is all based on thoughtful action and, if you take action, you’ll easily compete against those who remain frozen in fear of change.

The core of Peter Sheahan’s advice is this:

• Action creates clarity (To move forward, act in spite of ambiguity.)
• Fast, good, cheap: pick three, then add something extra. (This is the new standard in every industry.)
• Sweat the small stuff. (This is what creates competitive advantage.)
• Satisfy customers’ needs for engagement and contact. (It’s not “just business”; business is personal.)
• Find it on the fringe. (To win mass-market success, be courageous. Separate yourself from the competitive herd.)
• To get control, give it up. (Empower others to create, dream, and believe for you.)

Look into your own business and personal beliefs. Where are the inherent assumptions you should be challenging about your employees, your clients, your market and your industry? Why do you do things the way you do? Should you focus on input or outcomes? Will giving employees a raise really make them happier? Does working from home actually make people less productive? Will the market automatically “get it” and adjust to the changes you make? Does maintaining work/life balance interfere with business results?

Have you thoughtfully considered how new trends in business and thinking are affecting your current performance and, more important, your future sustainability? I challenge you to open up your mind and take a deep look.

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