How Real is Your Reality?

Jeff Cole

Do you want to make real and significant improvements? It might be time to challenge the assumptions and rules of reality, says columnist Jeff Cole. Do you play by the rules or do you make them?

In a recent speech, Google founder Larry Page shared some of the best advice he’d received as a young man starting out. When someone whose personal net worth is estimated at $18 Billion feels like sharing advice, it’s typically a good thing to listen. The advice? Page once attended a leadership seminar where a professor told him "There’s something to be said for having a healthy level of disregard for reality." That advice certainly worked for Page. When you add a new verb to the English language you know you’ve made an impact.

This brings to mind a question futurist Joel Barker asks all of his clients: "What is impossible in your business today, but if it could be done would fundamentally alter how you do business?"

Before you write that question off as interesting but irrelevant to you, consider this. The modern pioneers who generate radical change and improvement in our lives don’t drive down the middle of the bell curve. They operate at the fringes, pushing the envelope on what we assume to be the rules that govern our current reality.

Look around your office, mall, or any busy street. See anybody sporting a few gray hairs? Hands-down, I guarantee they’ve lived through this. If you could go back to the mid-70’s and talk to the younger version of those people, you may find that the things you take for granted today would be mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, seemingly impossible concepts to them at the time:

  • You know those 3 -5 television stations you get on that small TV? Guess what? How about 300 stations on a 60" screen that’s only 2" thick?
  • Those dimes you carry in your pocket for pay-phones? Instead, how about a phone with no wires that you can use anywhere and it’s smaller than half a pack of cigarettes?
  • Your groovy 8-track and album collection? Gone. Also gone will be your cassette tapes and CDs. How about a device the size of a matchbook with no moving parts that holds thousands of songs?
  • Those room-filling computers that only large corporations can afford? You’ll soon have more powerful devices the size of a paper-back book that only cost a few hundred dollars. Toss one in the front seat of your SUV. Oops – sorry that’s a whole classification of vehicle that doesn’t exist yet…

Get the picture? These changes sneak up on us and we very quickly grow accustomed to them. An elderly lady who was around in the early 1900’s was once interviewed. As a girl, she was having lunch at a country club when one of the earliest planes made an emergency landing on the golf course. They had never seen a plane. Men flying through the air in machines? Unheard of! They rushed out to see it. The interviewer asked, "What did you do then?" She said – "Oh, we finished our lunch and went about our day."

Twenty years from now you may be looking back and laughing – "remember when we used to use cash to buy things?" or how about "I remember before there were 3000 channels of 4-D TV on a wireless screen you roll up." The $20 cup of coffee? Do the math – it’s in the future.

We tend to operate within the bounds of what we consider to be reality – the "rules of the game" if you will. Sometimes events change those rules for us (home prices will always increase, or we can always plan to receive interest from our bank deposits). Sometimes the rules bend over time and other times people like Page come along and flat out shatter the rules and make new ones. Prior to 1998 did anyone ever tell you to "google" something?

Will you be a follower or a pioneer? How "real" is your reality? Where are the edges? Will you play by existing rules or create new rules? Leaders challenge the assumptions we make. Try this exercise for your business: Fill in the blanks: I assume we must_____. I assume we can’t ______. Push on those assumptions and see if they hold up. You may find you’ve been working under some outdated or false assumptions.

Breaking down those barriers may clear a path to exponential improvement!