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.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.