You Are What You Eat

Throughout life, patterns emerge in our belief systems. Where you were raised, the way your family interacted, the education you’ve received, and your life activities all leave deep imprints and affect the way we see the world. 

Our beliefs become a filter for how we observe the world around us. Sure, it’s a great time saver for mundane day-to-day work, but can also become a block to our ability to see new innovations or creative ideas. 

In “Deep Survival”, author Laurence Gonzales tells us that in a lost-in-the-woods situation, a 5 year old often out survives a 40 year old, simply because they listen to their body and the messages it sends. 

Things like “I’m cold” or “I’m tired” cause them to stop moving and make them easier to find. Where as an adult will press past physical warning signals in a desperate attempt to make their world look the way they see it on their mental map. 

In the military, we call that “bending the map” - where you literally fold the map to make what you read and what you see match. Moving hills and mountains to force the map to reflect the way you want it to look, not to show you where you actually are. It’s a deadly practice. 

The business world is no different. Companies fail because they can’t see the train coming down the tracks. The corporate map is played by dashboards and charts, which drives decision making. Beautiful images of arrows moving up and to the right are prepped for the boss to paint the pictures they want to see. “Show Me What I Believe” might as well be the slogan of many failed endeavors. After all, numbers can lie and dashboards can become an obsession or, worse, a fetish.

Dashboards and maps both have their places, just don’t forget they are not there to tell you what you want to hear. They exist as a reference point telling you what is. Read them critically and confirm that the data is still relevant, As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” Use them as tools, not nourishment.

Anchoring to old ideas can be deadly to business, yet it still happens all the time. It’s a cognitive bias, conveniently called the “anchoring bias,” and you need to be aware that it is out there. That is assuming you don’t want to fall into the trap of solving tomorrows’ problems with yesterday’s solutions. To avoid it take a couple simple steps to increase your habit of thinking critically. 

  • Get out and walk the lines, see things from more than just the perspective of the office. 
  • Ask more questions, that require you to listen.
  • Write more, if you think you understand an issue rather than talking it over try writing a short paper on the topic, you might be surprised at the ratio of opinions to facts used. Which in turn might clarify your thinking. 
  • Challenge yourself with new education, you don’t need a new degree but get exposed to new ideas, tactics and best practices. 

Do you agree? Do your early mental models shape what you can observe today?