5 Danger Signs of Frozen Thinking

I posted Beware of What Used to Work But Doesn’t Anymore a couple of weeks ago on this blog, using a change in coffee shop trends to point out the danger of frozen assumptions. frozen timeThis is related to my fresh look idea, which is basically that you can become too familiar with your business, which prevents you from seeing what’s changed.

Key point here: The past doesn’t predict the present, much less the future.

And frozen assumptions is my term for the failure to question assumptions. It’s a kind of business complacency that comes with the passing of time and is part of human nature. It can be bad for business.

And maybe frozen assumptions isn’t as good a term as closed minds. The temptation to know things is very strong, indeed; and I can tell you, from experience, it gets stronger as you get older. But no, please, resist that. Here are five big clues you need to watch for:

1. We’ve been doing that for years, so we know it works.

This was the problem from that earlier post. When things change, you can get caught assuming status quo instead of looking at what’s happening. Just because it used to work doesn’t mean it still does. Danger!

2. We tried that. It didn’t work.

Things change. What didn’t work two or three years ago might work perfectly today. I’ve seen this kind of change for decades, as the businesses that get stuck in the past lose ground to businesses trying something new. I remember when Intuit was scared to death of online bookkeeping, which, at the time, wasn’t working for anybody. But they didn’t get locked into that, continued to experiment, and now it’s working.

3. We’ve always done it this way.

Yeah, right. You’re familiar with this one of course. Everybody in business is. You need to have an automatic alert that rings bells whenever anybody says this one. “Because we’ve always done it that way” is a bad reason to do anything.

4. Everybody else does it like that.

Maybe I spent too long as parent of teenagers. Do you recognize this faulty logic? That’s not a good reason to do anything. Help me in the comments here, please — I know there are a million examples out there, so please add some for me.

OK, there are some things that everybody does like that. But why? Are there good reasons?

5. Nobody else does it like that.

This one is just as bad: maybe nobody has thought of it right, or times have changed, situations have changed, and it’s time for your business to do something delightfully or dangerously different.  We call this disruption, and in entrepreneurship and startups we like it a lot, right? Do it differently. Do it better.

(Image credit: vladm/Shutterstock)


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  • Charles Robinson says:

    Regarding your fourth point, there are a lot of trends that get done to death. Since I’m in culinary school the most obvious one to me is nouvelle cuisine. What started out as a food revolution in France in the 1960’s and launched California Cuisine and the general fusion food concept eventually became comical. One of the tenets of nouvelle cuisine was simplicity, and it was the first to fall as people pushed the boundaries of both culinary and aesthetic taste. Spectacles draw crowds, so a sure way to become a hot spot in the 1980’s was to throw as many ingredients as you could on a plate and balance it as precariously as possible. It often didn’t taste good, and eating it was like deconstructing a Jenga tower, but people thought that was what they were supposed to like since it was being talked about so much.

    Everyone did it, everyone jumped on the bandwagon, and eventually the wheels came off. A lot of lessons were learned, and you can hardly eat a meal today that wasn’t influenced in some way by the nouvelle movement, but that movement has long since died out.

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  • JayTurn says:

    Well said Tim. Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to avoid getting stuck in the routine of things. Venturing out beyond our comfort zones is how both businesses and people alike can grow.

    As an example, Chris Brogan spoke about this on his blog in relation to car dealership websites.

    It’s a perfect example businesses looking at the competition blindly following the herd. I am glad that you actually bring up the point of what didn’t work in the past, can work in the future. Some innovators are way ahead of their time and the problem is not their product or service, the market just isn’t ready to embrace it.

    I think timing is an element many people underestimate.

  • Jason Dick says:

    Another great blog, Tim! This is just straight up common business sense when you read it. But, as one observes the business world in action, these common types of “frozen thinking” infiltrate every corner of the business world. Three cheers for forward thinking, open-minded, flexible thinking to stay current.

  • Gordon R. Clogston says:

    Hi Tim,

    I have spent most of my career in management forcing others to break the mold and sometimes it was a mold of my own making that was in need of breaking.

    Regardless of who or what we are, we are first human beings and what is old and comfortable is hard to part with. I might also add that when success was won by doing X, Y, and Z it is a tough sell to convince anyone that continuing to do X, Y, and Z is no guarantee of success.

    There is comfort in doing what everyone else is doing or at least what you perceive everyone else is doing. Especially if you believe they are garnering success. By the same token, entrepreneurial types often determine that doing something someone else has never done is the right answer regardless of market awareness or acceptance.

    It is my firm belief that we must always be scanning the macro and micro environments within which we do business to detect the changes we should be adapting to. It is challenging as a leader to introduce change when the status quo is so comfortable. The problem is that you can comfort yourself right into an early and unplanned retirement.

    One thing I have learned, professionals who have compensation packages that do not include rewards for business advancement are generally more reluctant to change. Those who are rewarded appropriately are generally more open to change. Whether the compensation drove the behavior or those with a predilection for the behavior were attracted by the compensation is the topic of another discussion.

    Excellent points. Good Blog. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mike Myatt says:

    Hi Tim:

    This is a much needed post warning about the downside of using “no” in an inappropriate fashion. I’ve delved a bit deeper into this issue here in a post entitled “The Fallacy of No” which I hope you enjoy. Thanks Tim…

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