Our brains prefer the status quo because the patterns it uses to help you make sense of the world are understood, and humans prefer the status quo because it’s certain.
Yet the status quo isn’t much fun anymore – a continuous stream of emails, phone calls, meetings and crises; today’s way of dealing with change aren’t terribly effective anymore. Thinking beyond the status quo means admitting there are no right answers, and that strategic uncertainty is a fact of life.
We know we need to think differently about how we do things today to be able to deal proactively with the changing environment in which organisations exist, to know what’s important and what’s not, and to craft strategy in response to that change proactively rather than finding the only option is to react.
These FIVE key questions will get you started on the thinking journey beyond the status-quo. Answer these questions honestly and you will begin moving beyond the formulaic thinking that besets strategy development today, and you will be able to be proactive in your responses to change.
1. Am I willing to challenge my own taken for granted assumptions about how I see the world?
Thinking beyond the status quo means changing how you think about and make sense of the world around you today. Seeing it through new eyes, free of your brain’s taken for granted patterns of understanding. Acknowledging that your perspectives, while valid today, will probably not be reasonable in the future.
2. Do I regard thinking about the future as work or a luxury?
The thinking process and outcomes are hard to measure using conventional methods, and measurement is a primary driver of business operations today. That’s fine, but why do we crave time to think today? There’s a saying that if you don’t think about the future today, you’ll end up a bit player in someone else’s future, and that’s a real possibility if you are always too busy to think.
3. Do I monitor change on a continuing basis?
Find the space for thinking is one thing, ensuring you are have high quality information about changes affecting your organisation’s future is another. Many organisations explore the future as a snapshot when a strategic plan is being reviewed, or when there’s a major trend disrupting an industry. To break patterned thinking today, deep understanding of emerging patterns of change are needed, and identifying patterns is only possible if you monitor change continuously.
4. Is there support in the organisation for new ways of thinking that I can use?
It’s one thing for you to think beyond the status quo. For the new thinking to become valuable for your organisation as a whole, you need to tap into existing resources and seek support from what Andy Hines in his audit for organisational futurists calls bridge builders – those people who know how to get things done. And let’s be honest, there’s not much point trying to think beyond the status quo in an organisational sense unless the CEO is on board.
5. How much time and energy am I willing to invest in moving my thinking beyond the status quo?
It’s really easy to say you want to think systematically about the future, and really difficult to invest the time, energy and resources needed to do that in ways that get you the outcomes you need. Strategy books and blogs are full of tips and hints about how to bring the future into your plans, yet very few of them explore the need to think in new ways. They suggest new structures and processes, and people in organisations sigh because nothing fundamental changes. New ways of thinking come before new processes.
Summary: The ability to think beyond the status-quo is an innate mental capacity. It just needs to be surfaced and used in a conscious and collaborative way in organisations. We can all do it if we challenge the habitual patterns set up by our brains about what we do and how we do it and embrace the idea that thinking is work too.
Image: Painting “Fork in the Road” by artist Kate Scott