Leaders who fail to unlock hidden value in their business are ceding opportunity to others. If you’re a leader who’s been anesthetized by the routine you have a huge problem – you are not leading. Leadership is a game for the mentally agile, not the brain dead. Sound harsh? It’s meant to. While most of the world has succumbed to a static life imprisoned by the limitations of their own mind, real leaders are always looking beyond what is, thinking about the possibilities of what if, and acting to ensure what’s next.
What if? What if you could reinvent your business? What if you could change the perception of your brand? What if you could break from the status quo? What if you could attract better talent? What if you could reenergize your corporate culture? What if you could make the changes you know you need to make? What if? To the one, great leaders aggressively pursue what if – do you?
I’ve always said status quo is mediocrity’s best friend. While static thinking is the best short cut to obsolescence you’ll ever find, why would you want to travel that path? The sad thing is, I observe many more people willing to travel a path of ruin than I do people willing to change their thinking. While companies destined to fail reward average thinking, successful companies reward the bold thinking revealed through the microscope of what if?
Much has been written about the power of creative thinking, ideation, disruptive innovation, etc., but little has been written on how to successfully implement these processes. If you’ve ever wondered how to find those “ah-ha” moments, they all begin through observations inspired by asking what if? Just because what I’m espousing today is simple doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. While many so-called business gurus sell profit through complexity, the reality is leaders rarely profit from complexity – real profit is found in the pure elegance of simplicity.
Change doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, what’s more simple than using the filter of what if? It doesn’t require any special skills or ability, just the willingness to look beyond what presently exists. Let me be as clear as I can – there is simply no reason to continue to do things that make no sense. Ask yourself this question, when was the last time you did something for the first time? Leadership and herd mentality should have nothing to do with one another. If you want to become a better leader stop doing things the way they’ve always been done – don’t copy create.
What if Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t ask what if search could be more simple and relevant? What if Steve Jobs failed to ask what if you combined technology and design to create the ultimate customer experience? What if Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos didn’t ask what if about almost everything? Real leaders are open to the possibility that most things not only can, but should be improved upon. They understand it’s the ability to innovate and change which creates competitive advantage, adds value, and ensures sustainability.
The process of unleashing what if begins with not painting yourself into corners. Perhaps the single greatest barrier impeding the transition from what is to what if is allowing yourself to fall into the trap of either/or thinking. The best leaders realize there’s rarely a good reason to juxtapose one option against another. This is simply a false paradigm created by intellectually dishonest rationalizations. The sole use of A/B frameworks as a decision-making model unnecessarily limit opportunity by impeding creative thought and innovation. The job of a leader is to create, expand and preserve options – not limit them.
Utilizing what if thinking allows you to maximize the present while securing the future. The best leaders know how to attain desired outcomes while remaining discovery driven. It’s clearly important to achieve short-term hurdles, but not at the expense of long-term sustainability. Smart leaders understand the present is simply a springboard to the future. Absent an aggressive forward leaning bias, short-term wins will represent little more than pyrrhic victories as the innovators, the what if thinkers, pass you by.
My recommendation is a simple one – not only do I suggest you put everything you do through a “what if audit,” but ask your team to do the same thing. Question: What if you challenged everything, slaughtered a few sacred cows, and stopped holding false truths as real? Answer: creativity would be inspired, innovation would occur, and things would change for the better. Remember, conventional wisdom usually isn’t.
Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Board of Directors. Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership. He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership and Leadership Matters, and a Forbes leadership columnist.