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If you hear any of these three sentences at work more than once or twice, you can be certain that your company is heading down a dead-end path:
1. “We’ve always done it this way.”
If there’s anything true in the business world, it’s that what worked in the past isn’t going to work in the future. Clinging to what’s “tried and true” leads to pursuing wooden-headed strategies long after it’s clear that those strategies aren’t working.
A perfect example of this is Microsoft’s belief in the concept of “Windows Everywhere.” The company keeps trying to launch tablets and phones with Windows on them, even though the market has repeatedly made it clear that nobody wants the darn things.
In smaller companies, “we’ve always done it this way” manifests itself in an unwillingness to build process and structure as the company grows. A freewheeling approach to doing business works inside startups but is toxic inside a larger firm.
The Cure: “What worked in the past won’t work in the future.”
2. “But that can’t be true!”
Human beings have an innate tendency towards what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” This consists of sorting incoming information as being true/untrue and relevant/irrelevant based on how well that data fits with previously-held opinions.
Here’s an example from my own experience. Back in the 1980s, I gave a presentation to the C-level executives in a minicomputer firm which showed that PC sales were growing exponentially while minicomputer sales were flat. Even though the data came from SEC filings, the executives simply refused to believe that the data was true.
Similarly, entrepreneurs often believe so strongly in their company and product that they miss trends that are changing their industry and making their “vision” no longer valid.
The Cure: “Let’s not throw good money after bad.”
3. “We’ll make it happen … somehow.”
While there’s value in thinking positively, expecting something miraculous to happen sets you up to fail. Success in business is about assessing reality and taking appropriate action. It’s not about waiting for the magic fairy of profitability to fly in the window.
This type of wishful thinking results, for instance, in sales forecasts that crutch on winning huge amounts of business in the last two weeks of the fourth quarter. Which ain’t gonna happen.
Similarly, it turns up in implementations plans that walk backwards from an unrealistic release date. HealthCare.gov is a perfect example, but I’ve seen the same thing in small organizations, when managers grossly underestimate the amount of time and work it takes to create a truly great product.
The Cure: “Don’t hope and pray. Plan then act.”