A Breakthrough “Mindset” . . .

At the limits of performance, the difference between winning and losing is not just about physical and mental strength, but about changing the rules and adopting a different strategy.                      – Alistair Schofield

In the 2006 Open golf tournament at the beautiful Royal Liverpool course at Hoylake, Tiger Woods, Ernie Ells and Chris DiMarco all played brilliantly but Tiger Woods won by adopting a radically different strategy to everyone else: not using a driver to tee off with on the longer holes.

Although this strategy caused consternation amongst many golf commentators the result was that he not only won by two strokes but also set a course record for the lowest total score during an Open championship, beating the previous record by eight strokes.

While most players are busy building on conventional wisdom to perfect their game, it takes real bravery to challenge the process and adopt a different strategy. But breakthrough results are nearly always a result of breakthrough thinking.

A really great example of breakthrough thinking is the story of Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile. For many years it was widely believed to be physically impossible for a human to run a mile (1609 meters) in under four minutes. In fact, until Bannister achieved it in 1954, many believed the four minute mile to be a physical barrier that no man could break, in much the same way as pilots had once regarded the sound barrier.

Bannister, a medical student, could not see any particular physical reason why such a barrier should exist. After all, a mile is simply an arbitrary measure of distance. Having convinced himself that a physical barrier did not exist, Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds on the 6th of May 1954. Interestingly, John Lander, another runner from that era, also ran a mile in under 4 minutes just 56 days later and, by the end of 1957, no less than 16 other athletes had achieved the same feat, proving that a physiological barrier had not existed, but a psychological barrier had!

The same is true with many businesses which all too frequently limit their thinking to what is reasonable, rather than what is possible.

In the 1950s Toyota’s ‘lean manufacturing took a giant step forward from the accepted GM-like production environment and gave power to the people, having workers cooperate in original schemes to raise quality and productivity in a powerful new process, which eventually led to the Toyota Production System and Lean Manufacturing.

The typical strategic business plan as a perfect example of “bounded thinking”.  In most companies the starting point is usually the previous plan. It is therefore no surprise that the new plan invariably ends up looking like the previous plan plus a bit more . But it was not this sort of incrementalist thinking that led Nokia to abandon its roots as a lumbering and tire manufacturing company to become one of the world leaders in mobile phones, or that persuaded Apple to break into the music entertainment industry with the launch of the iPod and iTunes.

So!  What does your strategic plan look like?  Incremental or Breakthrough?

“Most leaders have no idea of the giant capacity for performance they can immediately command when they focus all their organization’s resources and attention on a few key breakthrough objectives.”

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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