8/30/2017 | Allie Harding

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” -- Albert Einstein 

A siren’s song is one of deceptive seduction whispering exactly what one wants to hear, but stories involving sirens never work out well. Instead, the hearer is drawn into increased confusion or even their own demise. 

The siren might say to a stuck business owner, “Keep doing what you’re doing and just hire a COO, they can fill the gap.” Or, “You just need more sales, so hire a marketing person.”  The siren’s ultimate message is, “You know what to do, you’ve just got to work harder like you’ve always done when things get tough."

What’s really going on? While an intriguing metaphor, for successful owners the mythical sirens of Odysseus are best compared to an owner’s mental models that served them well as they scaled through start up and growth, but no longer work. When considering prior success we must admit that Einstein is right, what got you here won’t get you there. New levels of business growth require new mental models and that is far easier to say than to do!

Successful owners gain control by recognizing that scaling their thinking always precedes successfully scaling their business. The question is if our mental models are not working, why don’t we just find new ones that will work? For this answer we turn to the psychological literature and find four inclinations that prevent us from recognizing the challenge:

Root Cause Failure
Leaders fail to take an honest look at why something does or does not work and instead often see only in part or rely on intuition.

Overconfidence Bias 
Because we have been successful in the past we expect to be successful in the future.

Attribution Errors
When we succeed we attribute it to our strategy and talents. We fail to consider other factors such as anomalies in the environment or happenstance. 

Willful Ignorance
The human mind has a propensity to bracket out information that may be overwhelming or for which we do not have a good answer. In some cases, while we could and should see changes that need to be made, we fail to acknowledge them.

Why do these inclinations pervade our thinking? Why do we persist in our mental models even when they are no longer useful? Because leading ourselves differently requires thinking and behaving in ways that do not come naturally. We have to override the four powerful inclinations, identify our thinking errors, and then have the courage to change.  

How many of these six common thinking errors (aka: siren’s songs) do you recognize in your own thinking?  

I can work harder
Mental Model: If I do more of what has worked in the past I should get better results. I just have to work harder. 
Correction: Work smarter – recognize that the symptoms are not the problem. Don’t try and force growth, instead identify and remove the barriers to growth. Recognize that your symptoms (slumping sales, high staff turn over, shrinking profit, etc.) are not the real issue. Engage in root cause and system analysis to find the levers for change.

I need to apply more control 
Mental Model: All control is good control even when it is reactive. 
Correction: Not all management control is equal. Proactive control takes into account how the owner’s wiring shapes the system and moves from creating a comfortable system to an effective, scaleable system. It shifts the focus from one of quick fixes with unwanted side effects to one of fundamental change. 

I just need to solve the immediate problem 
Mental Model: I only have so much capacity and I need to focus on what is important today. 
Correction: Serious threats usually unfold incrementally over time and are not a single incident. Taking the long view and applying resources to build the future instead of letting it happen increases your competitive advantage.

I can’t bring in someone I don’t trust 
Mental Model: I have a team of people I trust and believe in who allow me to do what I do best, steer the ship. I don't know if I can trust anyone else and if I add an unknown person I might have to manage differently. 
Correction: Acknowledge that management teams are part of the culture created by the owner. They are often built to make the owner comfortable and that translates as "trust". The cost of that trade off is limited scalability. Owner's have to make the mental shift from "trust" being the highest priority to "sustainable scale" being the highest priority even though it requires managing differently. 

I have proven my approach works 
Mental Model: I’ve paid a high price, fought hard for my success, and I am successful today. As a result I expect to be successful tomorrow. 
Correction: Recognize that experience is based on hindsight and post mortems. While experience is a valuable teacher, thinking forward means proactively and intentionally leading yourself differently in preparation for the increased complexity required to lead others differently.

I just need the right person
Mental Model: The solution to the organizational stress we are experiencing is to simply hire people to fill a role(s).  
Correction: Staff are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to business growth. Equal attention must be paid to systems and processes, training, strategic focus, culture, and financial management. If not, the "right person" often creates only temporary relief before the systemic challenges re-assert themselves and the stress level returns, but with far greater complexity. 

Recognizing your thinking patterns is the first step. We must also recognize that owners are operating in systems of their own creation. In order for transformation to occur the entire leadership team must engage differently. And, with each new level of growth the owner, the leadership team, and the organization have to go through this process again.  
Here are some resources that are helpful for understanding the complex seas and uncharted waters successful owners must navigate to avoid sirens and continue to grow:

•Peter Senge: “The 5th Discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization”
•Quick intro to Systems Thinking (video)
•Robert Quinn: “Deep Change: discovering the leader within”
•Kim S. Cameron & Robert Quinn: “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture”
•Competing Values Framework (video)
•Tom Peters and Robert Waterman: “In Search of Excellence: lessons from America’s best-run companies.”
•Marshall Goldsmith: “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” (video)

If you would like customized help and advice for you and your business, connect with us at www.orangekiwill.com.