Challenging Conventional Wisdom

by Janice Giannini

With a deep mastering at the intersection of IT and business strategy, consultant, board adviser and former C-suite executive, Janice has been harnessing the true power of IT for more than 30 years. An Executive and Board-level digital strategist at the intersection of risk and IT, she enhances competitive position through vision and equity with large-scale risk identification, quantification and mitigation in an ever-changing marketplace, generating long-term value for clients. She engages with senior executives and teams, particularly in complex businesses where misalignment is blocking their desired success, to develop and execute practical business strategies and plans. Clients have found her especially helpful when they recognize they must integrate an eagle's eye and worm's eye view in order to identify and remove obstacles. Janice has consistently taken on those challenges that others chose to run from. This typically involves those challenging times when failure is not an option and integrating business, technology and people changes must be accomplished simultaneously. As a result, many of her clients are complex organizations who won't settle for anything less than developing widespread professional competence.

I was reviewing a recent copy of TIME magazine's annual edition dedicated to The World's Most Influential People - The TIME 100.

I do not have insight into their selection process. While they limit the list to a mere 100 individuals, I suspect it is a daunting undertaking. You see there are a lot of people creating a positive impact in this world.

As I perused the pages reading the accolades of The Top 100, I started to realize that this group appears to have something quite significant in common.

They all questioned conventional wisdom. They did not dismiss it, rather they learned from it; in order to focus on improving the situation at hand.

Whether you chose to agree or disagree with TIME's selection, I invite you to look through the lens of The TIME 100 for just a moment.

If you truly want to make a difference in this world, challenging yourself might be the biggest challenge of all.

To look through this altered lens, perhaps the following can serve as a guide. You are not required to share this with anyone, so I encourage you to be brutally honest with yourself.

  • In your situation, what does conventional wisdom indicate you "should" do?
  • How does conventional wisdom indicate you should feel or behave?
  • If you are following conventional wisdom, how's it working for you?
  • Is your objective to prove something or be in a particular position? Or is your objective to accomplish something?
  • How open minded are you really? Think about the circumstance or situation to which you are the most closed and non-accepting. Ask yourself the following question: if accepting a different opinion in this one area would make a difference and enable you to accomplish your goal, are you willing to go there?
  • What frightens you the most? Research would indicate that fear of rejection, fear of failure, and just plan fear of the unknown are way up on the list. If embracing those fears could make a difference in your outcomes, are you willing to step up to address that fear? Are you willing to accept it for what it is, as well as for what it is not?
  • What is your real mission? Not just your publicly advertised mission, but your real mission? How big a part do you feel it makes in achieving your results?

Let's take a peek at some of the internal dialogue when individuals and leaders fail to challenge themselves and their stakeholders.

  • It has been like this for all time. It won't change easily.
  • What we are doing got us this far. If we simply push a little harder, we will achieve our goals.
  • We are really not that bad. Let's focus on the upside.
  • Doing something dramatically different requires a lot of work to enroll people in the idea so they are on-board.
  • If we do something dramatic and it doesn't work, we'll be in a worse position than we are now.
  • There are still too many unanswered questions about this different approach. Therefore the risk is too high. And "people" will know I don't have all of the answers.

The real questions are:

  • What is your job as a leader? What is riding on your ability to strike the correct balance between short term fixes and long term growth?
  • How much are you willing to challenge conventional wisdom in order to excel?
  • Where does your passion lie?
  • What are you doing daily to make a difference in your business and in your life?
  • What are you doing daily to position your business for sustainability over the next 20 years?
  • Is your job to know all of the answers and solutions? Or is your job to bring the team together to address challenges and produce the desired outcomes?

The Time 100 in their own way deduced the following and then decisively acted upon that knowledge:

  • The status quo is no longer producing the results needed. Or the status quo will fail us in the near future.
  • Creating sustainability for the next 20 years requires bold action.
  • The fear of staying where we are is greater than the fear of the unknown, or the fear of unintended consequences.
  • Positive decisive movement is required. If this fails, it's not the first time and most likely won't be the last time, we fail.
  • Typically there are many opportunities for course correction. If we stay attuned to reality, is the risk manageable?

If you dared to take the journey with me looking through the altered lens, peaking at the internal dialogue and addressing the real questions, and you don't like the answers to the questions; I invite you to reflect; Is living with fear really worth it?

When you were little and first learned to ride a bike, undoubtedly you were afraid. As you practiced more and more, with a safety net at first (mom, dad, brother, sister, friend) you gained confidence. At some point you developed the courage to ride on your own.

Is it time you help your business ride on its own?