Business and government facing challenging and uncertain times, can risk slipping into rumination — “The economy is struggling.” “Consumer confidence is down.” “It is beyond our control.”
To unpack why this might be, how it can impede innovation, and what to do about it, let’s go way, way back to when you all began …
You were hopefully born gifted with much hope, love and anticipation. You were the world. Self-awareness then evolved gradually to the distinction between you and the you others could see. Your perception of self, and association with the world was never the same again.
You realised …
‘You are NOT the world, just part of it.’
Yet, even with this realisation, there continued to be an inflated self importance. We are each only 0.00000001% of the world’s 7.4 Billion people. 97% of the world’s population do not live in Australia.
Our own significance is likely inflated.
So, we have two options …
- accept our insignificance; or
- increase our significance.
Most opt for increasing significance and they embark on an introspective journey. Yet, there is a fine line between productive introspection and destructive rumination. Briefly glancing inside oneself to understand our strengths, weaknesses, goals and aspirations is fine. Rumination, inwardly focusing on pondering negatives, has a strong correlation with anxiety and depression, and fails to see and build on the beauty of the world.
By and large introspection and rumination comes from human nature towards confirmation bias—the tendency to seek information that confirms our existing views. The loop of self-reflection. Progress is often not made, as facts that contradict existing opinions are ignored.
This can impact everything from an individual’s willingness to explore new perspectives to missing potential opportunities. Be these adjusting to an evolving landscape, experiencing new art forms, music, cultures et cetera.
Businesses and government also get lost inside themselves, replicating old rules and industry norms.
Introspection can kill innovation.
Rumination is bad for an economy.
Confirmation bias skews thinking towards affirming existing perceptions, rather than critiquing hypothesis or looking for alternatives. Data is analysed internally with likely unintentional bias, to confirm preconceived views that match the status-quo, category norm. Even external potentially unbiased perspectives, data, insights and opportunities are read with a filter revealing “nothing new,” which is likely less about the analysis and recommendations than decision makers unable to think beyond what they wish to confirm.
Herein lay the biggest challenge for the future.
That solutions to problems and opportunities will likely not be found from obsessive searching inwards. No matter how hard one looks, chances are the answers are best found looking outwards. We live in a big world. Our brand, government, product, service is actually far less significant than we think. There is a much bigger world and wider context.
The best way to increase one’s significance is by looking outwards. To the world around us, to customers and others needing help. Opportunities will only come from fresh thinking from beyond our existing mind-sets and entrenched biases.
Successful entrepreneurs accept their insignificance, and spend only the time required introspectively ensuring their products, services and strategy are the best they can be, but always with most of their vision outwards with a beginners mind, looking for the next step in increasing their significance.
Ultimately, growth comes from looking beyond self awareness to evidence of the wonderful world and its opportunities. Seeking signs of hope and happiness, and saying NO to doom and gloom.
Five priorities …
- Accept the existence of confirmation bias. Appreciate that human nature is to seek evidence to reinforce pre-existing views.
- Be conscious of the tendency of people, businesses and government towards introspection. Limit introspection to the things that matter — e.g. efficiently defining strengths, weaknesses, goals and aspirations, and ensuring the product and service is right, and skew thinking to reflecting outwards to the broader context — economic, social, cultural, environmental, regulatory, technology, geographic etc.
- Appreciate that ruminating on negatives with no solution is more so a sign of anxiety and depression than progress. Again, try to limit unproductive personal and/or professional thinking, and seek the council of those you can trust if you need help with problem solving, emotional support or mental health advice.
- Skew the focus towards finding evidence of the positive and beauty. Where does the challenging and ever changing environments offer opportunity rather than the associated stress? This is particularly the case for leaders.
- Seek unbiased outward thinking. Look beyond the category, geography and internal perspective. Avoid data analytics that just confirms the status quo (intentionally or otherwise). Look outwards, globally, new data, patterns and trends. Use external providers with a beginners mind with a wide perspective.
I leave you with the lyrics of Louis Armstrong’s 1967 ‘It’s a wonderful world.’
“I see trees of green, red roses too. I see them bloom, for me and you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. I see skies of blue, and clouds of white. The bright blessed day. The dark sacred night. And, I think to myself, what a wonderful world. The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky. Are also on the faces, of people going by. I see friends shaking hands. Saying, ‘How do you do?’ They’re really saying, “I love you!” I hear babies cry. I watch them grow. They’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know. And, I think to myself … what a wonderful world. Yes, I think to myself … what a wonderful world.
(This post is inspired by 22 years of speaking with and researching people from average and not so average men and women living life as best they can to media, business and government leaders. And, an observed trend that while leaders hunger for innovation and progress, there is way too much introspection and even rumination about how hard it is, rather than doing something about it and exploring the wonders and opportunities of the world.)
Previously posted on LinkedIn here