The Power of Impossible Thinking
Atanu points me to this wonderful article on mental models.
While not every “impossible thought” can become a reality, very often the greatest obstacle to transforming our organizations, society and personal lives is our own thinking. This may seem to be a simple idea in theory – that what we see and act upon is more a product of what is inside our heads than out in the world – but it has far-reaching implications for how we approach life and decision making. In a new book entitled, The Power of Impossible Thinking: Transform the Business of Your Life and the Life of Your Business, Wharton marketing professor Jerry Wind and Colin Crook, former chief technology officer at Citibank, present a process for “impossible thinking.”
This process starts with the recognition of the power of “mental models” but then offers practical approaches to challenges such as: How do you know when to jump to a new model? What do you do with the old models after the revolution? Where do you discover new models? How do you make sense of the world in an environment of overwhelming data? How do you transform your organization and the thinking of others? How do you harness the power of intuition? In a Q&A with Knowledge@Wharton, the authors offer their insights into these questions.
With fast, complex changes, making sense has become an essential skill for managers. As John Seely Brown, former chief scientist of Xerox and director of the Palo Alto Research Center, once commented, “In the old world, managers make products. In the new world, managers make sense of things.” Our book is focused on how to do this better.
Changing our thinking creates powerful opportunities for action. But to take those actions, the passengers first needed to change their hypothesis about what was going on.
One of the core issues is that we are not just data driven but we are hypothesis driven. This is a very important distinction. I now look at the underlying hypotheses in any situation. What do I think about this? Do I have a hypothesis to make sense of it? Have I examined this hypothesis or have I just looked quickly and said ‘I’ve been there and done that’ and just move on. Don’t rush to judgment and be much more mindful about the process. Once we know that the world is shaped and filtered by our own thinking, we recognize the need to constantly test our hypotheses against the world.
To challenge your thinking, you need to interact with diverse people and be able to see the potential wisdom of weird ideas.
It is amazing how malleable memory and perception can be – much more than we think. For example, in one research study subjects were standing at an airport ticket counter. The ticket agent pretended to drop something, ducked behind the counter and a different person finished the transaction. Many of the subjects didn’t even recognize the change had been made. We tune out big chunks of the environment.
We think we see the real world, but we actually see what’s already in our own minds. If we are not aware of the power of these internal models, we may just accept what we think we see as reality. This can be limiting, and sometimes even dangerous. We become very comfortable and dependent upon our current mental models.
In the book, we consider practical steps to change your thinking and the world. The first step is to become much more explicitly aware of why you see the world the way you do and what that implies. Second, you need to test the relevance of your current mental models against the changing environment. Do they still fit? If you need to change models, you need to generate new models and develop an integrated portfolio of models. Third, you need to overcome inhibitors to change by reshaping the infrastructure that supports the old models and changing the thinking of others. Finally, you need to quickly generate and act upon new models by experimenting, using intuition and continuing to assess and strengthen your models.
You also need to create a portfolio of models and use the one that works best for a particular situation.
So all the hypotheses need to be put on the table and tested. Anytime we seek to change our lives, we need to look at the underlying mental models across all aspects of our activities.