Research from the London School of Business looks at the role a company’s distinctive beliefs play in strategy and how to mine that “uncommon sense.”
How do you go about challenging the “sacred cow” beliefs that your company — or you yourself — hold?
In “Uncommon Sense: How to Turn Distinctive Beliefs Into Action,” a new article in the Spring 2012 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, authors Jules Goddard, Julian Birkinshaw and Tony Eccles from the London School of Business argue that winning strategies are grounded in distinctive beliefs that ring truer with customers and prospective customers than those of rival companies.
Being consistently and distinctively different means understanding your beliefs — or what the authors call your “uncommon sense.”
“In our experience working with companies, there are structured ways for rethinking your basic assumptions and beliefs, and for identifying potential new directions,” they write.
Here are seven steps the authors have used to start the process. The text is verbatim from their article.
- “Assemble a group of employees who are deeply familiar with how you do business — some who have been around a very long time, and some who are new to the company. Particularly useful are those who have worked for close competitors, as well as those who are known to be a little contrarian.
- Ask them individually to articulate their basic assumptions — about your business model (who the customer is, what the customer values, how you make money), about your management model (how people are motivated, how decisions are made and resources allocated, how objectives are set), and about the future of the industry.
- Their beliefs or assumptions can typically be separated into two groups: the beliefs or assumptions that almost everyone agrees about — the common beliefs; and those that only a few people identify — the uncommon beliefs (some of which are likely to look a bit odd, some plain wrong and others potentially profound).
- For the commonly held beliefs, consider how you would know if they were true. Don’t just presume that because everyone says “we are in a commodity industry” that this is necessarily a hard fact. What experiment could you do to verify or falsify this statement? The purpose of this exercise is to identify the “common nonsense” — the beliefs everyone holds that are actually not hard laws of nature.
- For the uncommon beliefs, consider why some people believe them to be true. What information or experience are they d/rawing on? What experiment could you do to verify or disprove it?
- Finally, it is worth reassembling the original group of people to brainstorm about possible beliefs that you might want to consider about your business model, your management model or your industry’s future. Can you identify beliefs that are quite possibly wrong, but worth experimenting with anyway?
- The net result of this process is typically a list of possible experiments to conduct. Some can be done in the regular course of business; others may need a special team and a budget. In our experience, it is worthwhile to agree on a process for conducting and reviewing the experiments over a period of time (usually three to six months). This is your pipeline of potential advantage.”
For more about how to turn distinctive beliefs into action, read the full article from which this list is excerpted. The authors are all affiliated with the London Business School: Jules Goddard is a fellow of the school's Centre of Management Development; Julian Birkinshaw is a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship; and Tony Eccles is also a fellow of the Centre of Management Development.