Business Productivity

How to get off your ASS(umptions) and watch your business thrive

- October 1, 2015 4 MIN READ

Doing things the way they’ve always been done will eventually kill you; just ask the dinosaurs. For your business to not only survive, but thrive in the ever-changing world, you must adapt like crazy.

A lot of people say to me: “You can’t do that!”

I’ve heard it so many times that I do not get upset or defensive. I just answer them with a question:

“Just because you can’t do something, does that mean it isn’t possible?”

We all have our ASS-umptions: things that you just ‘know’, without needing any further evidence. Your assumptions may seem correct and may help you out a lot of the time, but how much will they hold you back in a constantly evolving world?

There was a time, around 200 years ago, where all ships were made from wood (think  the First Fleet or the Pilgrims). Humans had been smelting metal for thousands of years; we knew how to make brass bells and iron cannons for the ships, yet we still used the same timber for our dugout canoes as for our largest international vessels. Why did we continue to use ‘old technology’ (timber) when new technology (metal) was readily available?

Well it was because the evidence was there for anyone to see (especially the blacksmiths): if you dropped a hot metal horseshoe into a bucket of water to cool it, it sank. Iron swords also did the same, while timber floated. Therefore, all ships should be timber. It was a known fact.

I like to think it was a woman who was first able to get off her ASSumptions and become the literal mother of modern sea-going vessels.

You can imagine this: the burly blacksmith bloke busy all day sinking hot iron into water as he worked while his wife was equally busy in the kitchen, washing the pewter cups and bowls. She would have noticed, as you now do, that items which are heavier than water can still float comfortably on its surface depending on their shape.

Who’s challenging your thinking?

There are many things, which when you first see them, seem unbelievable to you. But after a while, you may find them commonplace or even boring. Robot workers, wireless communication, a microwave which heats food without melting the food container, being able to store an entire music collection on an object the size of your thumb… all of these were once impossible dreams, and yet they are now your daily reality.

New inventions occur all of the time as technology seems to speed up at an exponential rate. The new TV, phone or gadget may now challenge your thinking of what was once possible for electronic gadgets or toys, but who is challenging assumptions in your business?

Have you hired new consultants or team-members from Generation X, Gen Y or the Millenials? These ‘kids’ who grew up with the internet do not carry the same assumptions you do. They are used to intuitive and instant technology, and although often impatient, they can quickly show you how to do things faster and more efficiently than ever before. (Remember that Roger Bannister was laughed at more than once for challenging themillenia-old tradition of the ‘four minute mile’ but once he showed it wasn’t impossible, a slew of people quickly followed in his wake.)

Do you have clients or suppliers who are from other cultures or countries? Quiz them on the latest way to do business from where they are from. Is service now more highly valued than speed? Is lower cost or higher quality the new driving force behind their purchasing decisions? What differences have they noticed between their culture or country and yours? What customs or practices could you adopt or adapt, when dealing with clients in the US, UK, EU or Asia?

Businesses used to trade only as fast as the communication could travel; be it via Pony Express, steam train, wooden ships or paper delivery. Now everything is ‘instant’.

But it’s not just speed that can define you, as much as changing environments. The dinosaurs failed to adapt and are no longer with us. Steam train companies that used to transport people across continents have disappeared; now we have airlines.

Q: Why did Union Pacific Rail not start an airline division?

A: Because they thought they were in the train business, and not the transportation industry.

The train companies already had the name, the reputation and all the customers. It would have been easy for them to introduce a new air service. They didn’t, and left a huge gap in the market for new airlines to enter.

What business do you think you’re in? What business are you really in?

Blockbuster video disappeared from the USA, killed by online content yet Netflix adapted and thrived. There was nothing to prevent Blockbuster from doing online content; nothing but their own assumptions and their reluctance for change. They thought they rented DVDs; in reality, they were providing customer entertainment. Renting DVDs is a dying art, whereas customer entertainment is still evolving.

The best takeaways and action items from all of this:

  • Hire someone who is younger than you, if not as a team-member, then as a consultant or a coach. They may see things with new eyes, from a perspective of fresh technology or see an opportunity which you do not.
  • Hire someone from a different country or culture than you, if not as a team-member, then as a consultant or a coach. They may see new emerging markets or new patterns of client behaviour which you can adapt or adopt for your business.
  • Take Steve Jobs’ advice and ‘Think Different’, as often as you can. Traditions can seem noble, and often are, but most people don’t want to go back to steam trains, timber ships, sending letters to friends via snail mail, or waiting in line to pay cash.
  • Ask yourself some questions:
    • What assumptions do I have, that others may not have?
    • How easily can I change and adapt to new ideas or environments?
    • What could I do differently, to give better service to new clients with whom I am not currently doing business?

It’s worth a thought.