Is rock music better than rap music?
Which is more effective, planning or improvisation?
Are people inherently good or inherently selfish?
Which is more important, individual rights or collective rights?
Will America’s future be better than its past?
Are low-income people less intelligent than high-income people?
Is Wells Fargo the devil?
Aren’t credit unions just the obvious choice?
Chances are you have an answer to each of these questions. Some of your answers may be more passionate than others, and you may even try to argue facts. Whatever your position, there is likely someone with an opposing viewpoint who can argue just as loudly and convincingly on each topic.
Every one of us has foundational assumptions that shape our worldviews. If your baseline beliefs are different than mine, you will interpret experiences, evidence, and data differently than I do.
Bringing preconceived notions into a strategic planning session is dangerous. More dangerous still is basing your strategic plan on those ideas without challenging them first. Every foundational assumption comes with a blind spot.
We often believe our views are shared by intelligent people everywhere. When you “know” something so deeply and intrinsically, it’s hard to imagine other people not knowing it and sharing your opinion. This cognitive bias is often called “the curse of knowledge,” and it’s responsible for a high percentage of ineffective strategic plans, primarily because it causes you to take positions that your current or ideal members may not share.
The Wells Fargo debacle is a perfect example. Based on recent events, I had the thought, “Why would anyone want to pay for a checking account? Let’s jump on this and get those millennials to switch.” Not so fast. Before we launched the attack, I asked several of our millennial and Gen Z employees to share their thoughts on the subject. It turns out several had accounts at Wells Fargo with no plans to leave. My response? “But why not? Credit unions are so much better!” It turns out convenience—or at least perceived convenience—was more influential than I realized. My foundational assumption was that no one in their right mind would choose Wells Fargo after their follies the last few months. That assumption was clearly challenged.
As you embark on your strategic planning session this fall, leave your foundational assumptions at the door. At the very least, be strong enough to question your previously held positions and consider opposing viewpoints. And don’t be afraid to ask others to do the same. But be warned, it won’t be easy. Pointing out someone else’s blind spot (foundational assumption) is like undressing them in public. It’s going to be awkward, and you won’t soon be forgiven. Stick to facts and data. Leave egos and emotions behind.
Still struggling with the thought of proceeding without your foundational assumptions? Need a strong example of how you could miss big success by digging in your heels and treating your foregone conclusions as gospel? Remember what the executives at Decca Records said in 1962 when they rejected a young, unknown band, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” The band? We know them today as The Beatles.