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Do Your Unconscious Habits Help or Hurt Your Profitability?

Dec 5, 2007
A well-known consumer goods company was struggling to improve profits. Each quarter, it had a harder time meeting budget. To reach those goals, huge discounts were offered to retailers to take goods they didn't need yet. The next quarter, retailers needed even larger discounts to take even more unneeded goods. This habit was taking the company down the drain. Is your organization doing something self-destructive out of habit? This article will help you see how mind-sets can help or hurt you, and assist you in identifying where you need new mind-sets.

A mind-set is simply the way we organize our thinking, whether consciously or unconsciously. Most of the time, we act based on unconscious mind-sets that simply repeat what we've done most recently. In a new situation where our conscious mind is engaged, we may also repeat past behavior because when faced with a new choice, we often search through our alternatives in a predictable pattern that includes some perspectives while ignoring many others.

Organizations develop their mind-sets through rules, processes, and rituals, as well as through the mind-sets of those who work in them. The fewer people who enter an organization, the more likely the organizational mind-set is to become fixed.

The Individual Stall Mind-Set

Are you awake, aware of, and working on what you want to accomplish ... or are you usually daydreaming? It's easy to spend most of your day with your conscious mind turned off while you endure your commute, struggle to stay awake during meetings, listen to long-winded people on the telephone, exercise, perform routine chores, and watch television. The focus for your whole mind starts in the conscious part of your brain. Keep that conscious focus turned off, and the whole brain runs on automatic instructions.

Overcoming that lethargy is pretty easy. Take these steps:

1. Create written goals for what's important.

2. Read those goals aloud twice a day.

3. Write out plans to help you accomplish your goals.

4. Increase the number of hours a day when you are consciously working on those goals.

5. Tell others what you want to accomplish and ask for their help.

6. Check your progress daily against your goals to identify where you need to shift to doing something more effective.

7. Get help in looking for ways to improve in those lagging areas.

8. Put improvements in place as soon as you can.

Some people tell us they don't have the time to add any new activities. We suggest you check out that belief. Write down everything you do and when over 24 hours a day for 14 days. Add up elapsed time totals for each category (such as spiritual activities, sleeping, eating, commuting, various aspects of work, activities around home and in the community, exercise, and recreation). Then create an ideal time allocation for how you would like to spend your time. If you are like most people who do this exercise, you'll find that you can shift 25 hours each week from what you do now into things you would like to be doing.

At this stage, some people are still confused about what to do. They don't see a role model or example that seems to perfectly fit what they would like to be doing. Relax. That's a good sign! It means that a lot of people are stalled in pursuing what you want to do. So there's lots of untapped potential for you to grasp. Try selecting some ideas for improvement from one person's example and other ideas from a different example. Put the combination together in a new way and try it out in a low-risk test. Many such tests won't work, but the ones that do will cause you to zoom forward.

The Organizational Stall Mind-Set

Since the advent of military organizations, the goal of many groups has been to focus and direct each person's attention to a narrow, predictable path. Since communication used to be almost impossible in large organizations, there was little choice but to try to do little in order to accomplish anything. Such groups are now called command-and-control-style organizations.

Today's fast-changing world is filled with much better educated people and more ways to communicate, so organizations can aspire to be very responsive by having those who first notice a problem or opportunity move quickly to take appropriate action. This works better if each individual knows that this should be done and develops her or his ability to notice problems and opportunities and to take appropriate, timely action.

Too often, however, the habits of command and control are carried over intentionally or unintentionally into a free-form world that most closely resembles a fast-break opportunity in basketball. Here are some examples of progress barriers created by command-and-control stalls:

- Meetings that focus on permanently fixed agendas drive out time and initiative that could be used to work on more important, but unperceived, issues.

- Compensation systems that reward you for doing only part of your job encourage you to ignore what else needs to be done.

- Lacking a focus on learning, many organizations spin their wheels by superficially reexamining areas that have been studied to death by predecessors.

- Rigid protocol often requires that you cannot speak directly with your counterpart in another part of the organization, leaving your efforts isolated and ineffective.

- Decision makers live in isolated bunkers with lots of guards around to keep others away, leaving decisions in limbo.

Become a Stallbuster

You now have a better idea of what a stall is. You may doubt that human beings can change mind-sets and become vastly more productive in short periods of time. But such quick changes may be easier than you think. "Necessity is the mother of invention" is a motto that applies to successfully dealing with crises. A big challenge can also cause that motto to come to life.


Be Aware of Your Habits

Most people are better at identifying others' habits than noticing their own. Ask others to tell you what habits they see in you. Then keep a diary to see which of those habits are done without much conscious thought. Next review what you have learned and think about the patterns. When would you have been better off changing the patterns?

Be Aware of Your Organization's Habits

For the next week, write down everything that your organization does without much thought. Pay particular attention to how problems are addressed. Consider the habitual items on your list and ask yourself the following questions:

- Why are these things done?

- What is the benefit?

- When are these habits harmful?

- When might these habits stall progress?

- How should the habits be changed?

- Does the organization have an effective method for making the changes?

Be Aware of How the Habits of Others in Your Organization Affect You

Many ambitious employees soon begin to sound, look, and think like the CEO -- down to the tiniest variation in cadence and phrase. The more you think about habits, the more you will notice them and create the needed adjustments. Answer the following questions to gain perspective:

- What habits do people in your company pick up from the CEO?

- What are the benefits?

- When are these habits harmful?

- When might these habits stall progress?

- How should these habits be changed?

It's a good idea to repeat this investigation for other leaders who serve between the CEO and the bulk of those who work for the organization.

Be Aware of How Your Habits Affect Others in Your Organization

Habits can come from being with anyone. In fact, you are creating quite a few habits in others through your actions. Because you are the source, such habits will be easier to change than the others we describe in this section. To increase your awareness, ask yourself the following questions:

- What habits do people in your company pick up from you?

- What are the benefits?

- When are these habits harmful?

- When might these habits stall progress?

- How should these habits be changed?

Practice Soaring Like an Eagle

Most impassable barriers to progress occur only in the mind. In reality, there is usually a way around (over, through, or away from) the barriers that will work just fine. To improve in seeing past your habitual ways of thinking and acting, you need success in doing something that seems impossible. An example might be to sell more of your company's products at a higher price with less marketing and to enjoy a higher profit margin. Pick such a business objective that's way beyond what anyone thinks is possible and then address the following questions:

What would have to happen for this result to be possible?

If your organization had all of the resources and time in the world, could it be done?

How much would it be worth to accomplish this objective?

How much can your organization realistically afford to spend to reach the objective?

Do other people see this objective as being impossible, or, rather, do they see it as difficult or inconvenient?

Assuming for the moment that you could know how to reach the seemingly impossible objective (such as selling more of your company's products at a higher price with less marketing while earning a higher profit margin), what is the answer to the seemingly impossible objective?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is coauthor of six books including The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, and The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook. You can read about his work on creating 2,000 percent solutions by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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