The Power of Impossible Thinking

[via Atanu Dey] Knowledge@Wharton asks what’s common to the 4-minute mile, Starbucks and the moon landing and answers:

Impossible thinking. It is what put men on the moon, allowed Starbucks to turn a commodity product into a powerful global business and permitted Roger Bannister to run the four-minute mile. While not every impossible thought can become a reality, very often the greatest obstacle to transforming our organizations, society and personal lives is our own thinking. This may seem to be a simple idea in theory that what we see and act upon is more a product of what is inside our heads than out in the world but it has far-reaching implications for how we approach life and decision making. In a new book entitled, The Power of Impossible Thinking: Transform the Business of Your Life and the Life of Your Business, Wharton marketing professor Jerry Wind and Colin Crook, former chief technology officer at Citibank, present a process for impossible thinking.

This process starts with the recognition of the power of mental models but then offers practical approaches to challenges such as: How do you know when to jump to a new model? What do you do with the old models after the revolution? Where do you discover new models? How do you make sense of the world in an environment of overwhelming data? How do you transform your organization and the thinking of others? How do you harness the power of intuition?

Some excerpts from the interview with Wind and Crook:

To challenge your thinking, you need to interact with diverse people and be able to see the potential wisdom of weird ideas…We need to keep an open mind and approach life as a series of experiments. We need to observe the experiments happening around us and create new ones. Instead of accepting the world as we think it is, we need to keep testing it to find out what it is and what works.

In the book, we consider practical steps to change your thinking and the world. The first step is to become much more explicitly aware of why you see the world the way you do and what that implies. Second, you need to test the relevance of your current mental models against the changing environment. Do they still fit? If you need to change models, you need to generate new models and develop an integrated portfolio of models. Third, you need to overcome inhibitors to change by reshaping the infrastructure that supports the old models and changing the thinking of others. Finally, you need to quickly generate and act upon new models by experimenting, using intuition and continuing to assess and strengthen your models.

One of the ways we can deal with [complexity] is is through a process of zooming in and zooming out. If you can alternate your focus between the detail and a broader view, you can see the detail and the context, the trees and the forest.

Kalam’s RUPCON model

[via Raj Waghray] Deccan Herald writes about President Abdul Kalam’s ideas for rural development:

President A P J Abdul Kalam in a historic address to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly delineated his vision of building a developed India through essential connectivities that will build physical, electronic and knowledge connectivity with rural areas and lead to economic connectivity. (These) integrated methods will bring prosperity to rural India, he said.

Explaining these connectivities, President Kalam said village clusters would be be provided with physical connectivity through quality roads and transport. Electronic connectivity would be provided through telecommunication with high bandwidth fibre optic cables reaching rural areas from urban cities and through Internet kiosks.

Knowledge connectivity would be achieved through education, vocational training for farmers, artisans and craftsmen and entrepreneurship programmes.
These three connectivities (would) lead to economic connectivity, through starting of enterprises with the help of banks, micro-credit and marketing of products, he said. President Kalam said he called this model of development Rural Prosperity through Connectivity or RUPCON.

Our nation is going through a major challenge to uplift the 260 million people who are below the poverty line. They need habitat, they need food, they need healthcare and they need the education and employment that will result in a good life. Our GDP is growing at more than 5 per cent per annum. Economists suggest that to lift people from below poverty line, our economy has to grow at the rate of 10 per cent per annum consistently for over a decade.

A mission of the people should be to transform India into a developed nation to meet the needs of one billion people by focussing on the five areas of core competence: agriculture and food processing; reliable and quality electric power, surface transport and infrastructure for all parts of the country; education and healthcare; information and communication technology, and strategic sectors.
If these areas are developed they would lead to national, food and economic security, he said. He listed out missions to bring prosperity to rural people by focussing attention on agriculture, energy, drinking water, healthcare, weather monitoring and education.