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February 26, 2005

The Reality of Possibility

I grew up in a household of mostly right brain logical thinkers. My father was an engineer by training but rose through the ranks of Texaco into senior management. My mother, the passionate Italian, provided the balance of reason by occasionally challenging "what was right", or at least what was said to be right. By the way, if you haven't read the Truth about the Truth, read it. Back to the subject. Given the nurture that I had, where my father was the dominant personality, I went to a great engineering school (Clarkson College of Technology) which is now a "university" after it decided to take state and federal monies and diversified its curriculum. So to me, everything looks like a number, or a matrix of some sort. Well almost. You see, while I did learn a great deal from my father and from Clarkson, my mother had a great influence on me as well. I mostly learned from her how to challenge the status quo and to live life to its fullest. Talk about ying and yang. This brings me to the Reality of Possibility. I use this matrix consciously and sub consciously every day. Although it's not as widely applied as the Theory of Relativity, I still like it. Reality_possibility_matrix_7

You can put people, individual situations, companies, whatever, in a static environment into any one of these four categories or quadrants. But the real power of this matrix is how to move from one category to another. So let me give you an example - a business example. Lets take IBM in the 80's. They had fallen into a "crisis" mainly because they didn't innovate and see the advent of the distributed computing environment coming. Here they were in the 70's, cranking out cash from their mainframe lines doing "Business as Usual", the world around them was moving toward distributed computing and in the 80's, they didn't see it coming (or refused to see it coming) and they fell into Crisis. They were no longer a match for the current reality (i.e. they were low in reality and they were not innovating - high in possibility). What happens with companies, as well as individuals, when they are in crisis is they are forced to innovate. This is when people take extraordinary actions and get creative - fast. People do their best thinking when their backs are up against a wall. They invent or create a "Breakthrough" for themselves, their company - hopefully. If they don't, they wither away and die (chapter 11). Now typically those breakthroughs are viewed by most as "crazy" or having little to do with the reality that they have known (i.e. they are high in possibility and low in reality). Think of IBM in the 90's, what did Gersner do, he got them into the Services business and created IBM Global Services. People thought he was crazy - why was IBM getting away from what they do best? Now the challenge is to get your constituents to start to believe in the new future that you've created for yourself or, to be just ahead of the curve that "you know is coming" and ultimately you shift from low to "high in reality". You marry "high reality" with "high possibility" and bingo - Sustainable Business Breakthrough. Or what we like to call The Magic Quadrant! You are now out ahead of the crowd, innovative AND a match for what is needed in reality. But low and behold, the crowd catches up (the frame changes) and your back to Business as Usual. Reality_possibility_matrix_6

Ah, the endless cycles of business. I can give you hundreds of examples of businesses that follow this cycle. I can give you hundreds of examples of individuals that follow this cycle. Some of the cycles are short; some of the cycles are long. But this seems crazy, why would businesses or individuals allow themselves to be caught in these perpetual cycles. This is where my parents come in. You see, you don't have to. The challenge is to continually balance Reality with Possibility. Those that think they are "always right" or righteous will ultimately get caught up in the cycle and crash. They get caught in the Business as Usual frame by being unwilling to change and get passed by, or they get caught in the Breakthrough frame because they are always changing and never a match for Reality!. Both are recipes for Crisis. Those that have a good sense of Reality but are OPEN to Possibility are able to balance and operate in differing dimensions when needed.

Reality_possibility_matrix_10 So the challenge is to continually operate in Sustainable Business Breakthrough, by having parts of your business, your life, operating in Business as Usual, but having other parts of your business, your life, creating Breakthroughs by being open to new possibilities - by doing things differently, by challenging the status quo. The businesses or the families that operate at peak performance usually have a balance of people. There are those that are perfectly fine operating in the past or present honoring "how it's always been done that way so why change". And there are those that are perfectly fine operating in the future, challenging the status quo, looking for new and innovative ways to do things. The challenge for CEO's and parents alike, are to find ways to have each of these types of individuals to learn from each other. Or, if you're lucky, find and surround yourself with those unique people that have the ability to operate anywhere along the curve at any one time.

February 26, 2005 in Business | Permalink


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WOW! linked to your blog, loved it. After thinking about this, I can site a number of examples within our business. There are definately people that don't want to rock the boat and others where thats all they want to do. I guess it's how many you have on each side that determine your success in a changing environment. This is cool. So how do you get people to inovate?

Posted by: Ron P | Feb 27, 2005 9:15:37 AM

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