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SupaThink: Keeping an Open Mind

Recently, I have been reflecting on how it is becoming harder to keep an open mind about certain topics or issues. It seems, that the older I get the more I have to challenge myself to keep true to this core value of mine. I am not sure if this is driven by the increasing polarization in our society, or the emerging populism, or simply, by the fact that people tend to become more set in their ways as they get older. Another factor may be that for our increasingly online/digital persona it is easier to connect with like-minded blogs and information supporting our opinions and points of views. In any case, it just seems to me that it is getting harder "to keep an open mind" and I think this is creating a lot of risks. These risks are not only impacting individuals but businesses as well.

Last week, I attended a presentation by one of the most influential and famous professors at Harvard Business School, Clayton Christensen, an expert on innovation and disruption, who reminded the audience that strong leaders and managers are able to assess how "different theories have an opinion" on a situation or issue versus relying on their personal point of view or perspective. He told us how he always reminds his students to prepare for a case by first assessing the situation and context and then studying different management theories to determine their implications. He challenges his students to assess whether, for example, the "theory of disruption" has an opinion on the particular case. The most successful companies and their leaders continuously assess different theories and studies to determine how to improve their decision-making, business model and strategy execution capabilities.

In addition to using management theories more rigorously, I thought about a couple of other practical tools we might consider increasingly emphasizing or leveraging to foster a "keeping an open mind" culture:

  • Scenario-Based Analysis: The use of scenarios has been around for many years and has been particularly valuable in various risk management disciplines, like operational risk, as well as, capital stress testing. However, I believe that the use of scenarios can have a much broader application to other business processes, including strategic planning. Scenarios allow for a more in depth "what if" discussion and a more thorough evaluation of different options and opportunities. Especially in more complex environments, the use of scenarios may allow for a better assessment of future challenges and opportunities.

  • Comfort Zone Challenge: Great leaders continuously push their teams out of their comfort zones. They are not afraid to shake things up and create adversity for their teams. For these leaders, complexity, ambiguity or uncertainty, represent "opportunity". The status quo or business-as-usual are red flags. Challenging their teams fosters an open mind and increases openness to different perspectives.

  • Mindfulness: The Harvard professor Ellen Langer in her book Mindfulness describes the risks and errors as results of routine and mindless behaviors. Great leaders encourage being a mindful person, particularly focusing on the ability to create new categories, being open to new information, awareness of more than one perspective, attention to process rather than outcome, as well as trust of intuition. Practicing mindfulness can be a key tool in keeping an open mind.

Increasing our focus on management theories, scenario-based analysis, challenging teams out of their comfort zones and being more mindful should help in creating a culture with a more open mind. I would like to conclude this SupaThink post with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: "Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”