Spotting Your Organization’s Orthodoxies

by Michael Graber

Spotting Your Organization's OrthodoxiesOften the very factors of success around which you launch, build, and manage an organization can turn on you like a venomous snake. The framework that worked so well, for so long, now limits the growth of the place. At some points the factors have turned into choke points.

But your organization is geared by its way of doing things, its orthodoxies. So you keep pushing harder, doing more of the same, denying new competitive threats and emerging trends.

You never make the decision to cannibalize your own leadership, like Gillette, and yet new, disruptive threats emerge onto the landscape, like the Dollar Shave Club to extend the example.

Remember the cautionary tale of DEC.

Started in the late 1950s and peaking in the 1980s, DEC was a $14 billion business, one of the most profitable companies in America. They were expected to usher in the age of real computing. But their leader, Ken Olsen, was trend-resistant, and even worse, an autocrat. He didn’t believe PCs would have any place in business and were nothing more than toys for playing video games. By 1992, the board asked him to resign, the company continued to lose billions and was ultimately dismantled – bits and pieces going to various other companies.

They were stuck, rigidly fixed, inside an orthodox. So, what is an orthodoxy? A deeply or widely held belief, self-imposed boundary or rule. Orthodoxies often begin as rules of the game developed by successful pioneers in the business. They represent a mindset that was once highly effective to business growth, but no longer has long-term value.

Look for orthodoxies. If your organization can spot and name them, they can be turned into real value.

Exposing orthodoxies helps reveal existing assumptions, blind spots, and limiting behaviors. Challenging or overturning them can lead to new opportunities from looking at our business model in a new way.

Spot orthodoxies in these areas: Who is our customer? What form the product or service should be? How we go to market? Who are competitors are? The way we decide on new products and pricing? How we do things around here, the [fill in the blank] way.

Like a 5-year-old asking “why” five times, ask about these long-running orthodoxies. They are not, nor do they have to be, absolutes of reality. They can change.

Here are three simple questions you can ask to spot and begin to overturn orthodoxies:

1. What are things you never hear anyone say about our organization?

2. What if Disney bought us to enter this business? What would they change and how?

3. What opportunities have we missed because of orthodoxies?

List them. List the vulnerabilities that were exposed. Then, come up with five ways to activate new thinking, new actions and new value that were limited by the identified orthodoxy.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the co-founder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis. Follow Michael @SouthernGrowth

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