Often times the best solutions to challenges we face in business and our personal lives are not immediately obvious. If we keep a narrow focus, rather than being open to new ideas and new ways of looking at a challenge, we often miss the best solution.
The need to control weeds is important to cotton farmers in the southeastern states in order to increase crop production, but they are unable to use a popular weed killer. Roundout is an environmentally friendly product that effectively kills weeds, but unfortunately also kills cotton plants. Other weed killers were either ineffective or ecologically harmful. After much research an answer was found that effectively killed weeds, didn’t harm the environment, and allowed the cotton plants to grow. The answer didn’t involve modifying the Roundout formula. Instead, biotechnological researchers developed a cotton plant resistant to the killing chemical in Roundout.
Most of us would have thought about re-engineering Roundout rather than the better solution of re-engineering the cotton plant to be resistant to glyphosate, the prime weed killing ingredient.
So What Does This Mean to Me?
It means that regardless of whether you own a business or work for someone else, you need to keep an open mind when confronting a challenge. Often the best answer is not immediately discernable and may be beyond your current knowledge or experience.
In his book, “Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got”, Jay Abraham writes “you must constantly be on the lookout for new and better ways to dramatically improve your overall business performance…” Are you constantly on the lookout for new and better ideas or are you of the “I Know” mindset, (e.g. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years and know everything…I don’t need to learn more…I don’t have time to read”)?. If cotton farmers were not receptive to “out of the box” re-engineering, the cotton plant would not have emerged as the best solution.
History is full of examples of businesses and individuals who were acknowledged as leaders, but who in a short while had fallen off that pedestal not because of any error that they made other than keeping an open mind. These leaders didn’t adjust to an ever changing world. The failure of these leaders to adapt left room for other businesses or individuals to claim their mantle.
So What Can I Do to Keep an Open Mind?
1) Successful leaders recognize that they need to be constantly learning to recognize game-changing solutions that would have been outside their sphere without the additional knowledge. The Japanese use a term “kaizan” for constant never ending improvement.
2) Recognize that the words “I know” do more to impede absorption of new ideas than any two other words in the English language. When you say “I know” your mind closes down and the best solution for your challenge might just pass by unheard. Instead of saying “I know” next time keep an open mind by saying “Isn’t that interesting”. In saying this you are not agreeing with the comment, but your mind remains open and may hear a nugget of information that will help you solve your challenge.
3) EDUCATION: Change your paradigm by reading about what other people have done. Set a goal of reading at least one business or motivational book each month. Reading and listening to educational CDs expands your perception. Did you know that 99% of the business owners in the world read less than 1 book each month? Set a goal for yourself to read one or two books a month and you’ll gain a huge edge on your competition.
4) Force yourself to break out of your routine ways of identifying solutions to problems. Research how other business owners or individuals have resolved similar problems and apply what worked for them, modified of course to fit your business.
Anyone who thinks that the buying preferences of their customers post recession will mirror those exhibited prior to the recession is most likely going to be in for a surprise. Owners and individuals will encounter completely different dynamics which will necessitate new solutions. If you limit your thinking to what worked in the past, you will struggle against more enlightened competitors. What worked in the past won’t always work in the future.