(Part two of Auto Pilot published 6/25/12)
A friend of mine worked for General Motors in the 70’s and 80’s. He was part of a team tasked with solving the crisis of the emerging threat of German automakers Mercedes and BMW.
Cadillac had been the dominant luxury brand in America for years. Their only real competition had been the Lincoln Continental, which ran a distant second. When they started loosing sales the company wanted to know what happened? “How did we get here and how do we beat the German competition.”
The group carefully analyzed the new competitors and explored how to catch up. At this point one of the group asked “What should we do about the new Japanese luxury autos?” The senior team member laughed and told him to “stay focused, the Japanese aren’t a threat our real problem is the Germans”
As of last year Cadillac still trailed Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus
In my last blog I wrote about how the brain allows us to work in complicated environments by noticing routines or patterns and switching to autopilot to handle those routine tasks. I also talked about the how the brain ignores subtle changes and applies past behavior and solutions to situations that are “sort of like” what we already know. This is the only way we can process the incredible volume of information we perceive each instant. Your brain looks at reality searches for a close enough match in memory and functions as if they are the same.
“EVERYTHING THAT THE BRAIN SEES OR HEARS OR TOUCHES HAS MULTIPLE INTERPRETATIONS. THE ONE THAT IS ULTIMATELY CHOSEN IS SIMPLY THE BRAIN’S BEST GUESS. THESE GUESSES ARE HEAVILY INFLUENCED BY PAST EXPERIENCE AND, IMPORTANTLY WHAT OTHER PEOPLE SAY”
This is part of the reason that Cadillac lost their #1 status. They were locked in autopilot solving yesterday’s problems and couldn’t see subtle changes in the environment until it was too late. They were in fact answering the wrong question.
Sadly the person who suggested the right question was not only ignored but also may have damaged his career.
As you can see the brain is wired to handle slowly evolving change. This is the normal state of nature. We have created a rate of change in the human environment that makes it difficult to function in the normal way.
Here’s the short list why;
- To save energy your brain seeks the quickest solution that requires the least effort
- The brain often treats subtle change as if they don’t exist
- The most natural way to solve a problem is by automatically recycling past solutions.
- We fear making “stupid” mistakes so our brains may automatically reject unproven solutions before our minds get a chance to see them.
What to do?
- Be patient; take the time to examine and reset your assumptions.
- Cultivate the outliers. Listen to the person who suggests your asking the wrong question.
- Cross-pollinate your team with ideas and breakthroughs from other fields.
- Ask what if? Especially regarding the consequences of new but unproven technology.
- For more information read Iconoclast by Gregory Berns