“You can focus on things that are barriers or you can focus on scaling the wall or redefining the problem.” – Tim Cook, CEO Apple Inc.

It started the same way: I was given the opportunity to work with a new talented team who were excited by the opportunity to develop their annual plan. The team reflected on how they performed over the last year and relished in new access to capital, and new team members around the table.

Then the conversation drifted to growth for the upcoming year and expense management. Immediately, everyone did what they always do: they drew on their historical knowledge to position comments like:

  • “Our industry saw a downturn last year.”
  • “Our team doesn’t have the capacity to do more.”
  • “Our customers don’t want to hear from us more than we already meet with them.”
  •  “We only grew 3% last year so we can only grow 3% this year.”
  • “We had high turnover last year so we can expect the same this year.”
  • “Our revenue grew by 50% last year so we should expect the same this year.”

It was a very controlled, logical, and real conversation based on the mindset of the presenter – same as usual, and creatively stifling.

Fact vs. Fiction

The problem arises when we take the stories we tell ourselves as fact, and then shape what we believe is a logical, rational framework within which all business decisions must fall. The conversation is easier because the team is familiar with the rhetoric but shouldn’t be confused with the brutal facts we really need.

So how do we eliminate the stories we tell ourselves and deal with the real facts?

We use a couple of different approaches:

Start from zero:

Treat the business as if you were starting it fresh, today, with no history to draw on. Take a holistic look at the environment and base your decisions only on what you find.

  • If you only had one set of numbers (nothing you could trend), how would you go about establishing your future?
  • Where would you invest?

Build an impossible future.

Take your team to a place they can’t picture themselves and then work back to build the plan.

  • We are going to grow revenue by 500% next year, or we will add 1000 clients next year.

Assuming these numbers are nowhere near the normal trend, it forces your team to push through the natural barriers they have established and forces them to think creatively.

The team I’m working with decided to embrace the “Build an impossible future” approach and were able to challenge themselves to make that future a reality. They embraced the mindset of “Let’s go make this happen” versus being weighed down by history. I fully expect exceptional growth this upcoming year.

The Challenge

  • Identify three business stories you have told yourself that are ground in story versus fact.
  • How would they change if they were future-focused with no history to pull on?
  • How would that change what you do?

Dean Ritchey is a Coach and Strategic Planning Advisor at Lawrence & Co.