Unthinkable! Really?


Don’t be afraid to question things you take for a fact, as we regularly wake up to the bare reality of the unthinkable. Bank runs aren’t supposed to happen, are they? Likewise airplanes where not designed for flying into buildings, hatred wasn’t supposed to triumph over common sense. 


Yet, these things happen. A phenomenon that is not new. On the contrary, the advice to dare to question the things you take for granted stems from Bertrand Russells book “The problems of Philosophy”, published in 1912. Little did he know that more than a hundred years later his advice would still be extremely relevant. Now, maybe even more than ever.


We should dare to question the things we take for facts and reflect on as ‘business as usual’. As business strategists and entrepreneurs, we apply this to our own business as well.  We frequently assess how choices we’ve made previously, play out in practice. We formulate options, including so called unlikely scenarios. This might sound as a waste of time, but we’d like to think that this habit does help us to stay abreast, as well as receptive to new, unexpected insights. It might even open our eyes to options that we would otherwise completely miss or disregard. It’s okay to be open to unlikely or sometimes uncomfortable scenarios.  


When we are, we might be just in time to absorb new insights, adopt our actions and beef up solutions for these unlikely scenarios. Vague? Maybe an example could help us out here. At the beginning of the 19th century a few owners of sailing ships understood this, when the first steamships where introduced. Even though they didn’t fully understand the concept of the then revolutionary steam engine, they were willing to listen and even tried to prepare themselves for what was about to happen. However, others thought that adding some extra sails would do the trick. The learning here is that it sometimes takes time to understand how scenarios will play out, yet the survivors are those who carefully follow what’s going on and adapt. Even if they don’t fully grasp the technology behind the change.


So? Feel free to look ahead. Make it part of your daily job. Accept that you can’t predict the future, but don’t let that stop you from dreaming, pondering and strategizing. We believe we should train ourselves to gather insights, data and information, get informed by the most unlikely sources and then work out possible scenarios. Be open to picking up signals, whether little phrases during meetings with clients or when talking to colleagues, and pay attention to detail. Let’s try not to take things for granted and not too quickly disregard input because of our biases. And, yes it’s hard and maybe even against human nature. But do we have a choice?


See you in two weeks! 


Vincent Hooplot & Michiel Breeschoten



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