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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • March 29, 2020
  • minute read

How to Think About the Unthinkable 

Sometimes things change so much it's hard to know how to get your head around it. 

This is certainly one of those times. Where does one even start to make sense of all of this  - let alone begin to build a coherent strategic response?

As leaders, hard as it seems, we must find a way to think ourselves out of where we are now. Here's a template to get you started:

Please leave your questions and observations in the comments below!

Running time: 07' 30"     Don't forget to leave your comments below!

Read Transcript

Every now and again something happens

that is so impactful that it changes how we have to think -

how we have to address the world around us.

The invention of the automobile; manned flight; two world wars;

9/11; the invention of the internet. And we are in one of those

times now.

It may indeed turn out to be more impactful than all of those

- but we're certainly in a world where we're being challenged

as to how to think - just how do we think about what's going

on at the moment?

And one of the bedrocks for me has always been when I'm confronted

with something that I can't seem to get my head around.

is to start with fundamental presuppositions. Presuppositions

are the things that are just that - we assume them to be correct

and to apply. And what we've got to do in the current environment

as leaders for our organizations is to really unpack our

presuppositions and rebuild them.

And there's a specific structure I want to suggest to you, and then I'm 

going to give you a specific example -an applied example.

One thing to do if you're trying to find a way to think about

the future and how we respond to where we are is just to

sit down and devote sometime - take about 45 minutes or an hour -

and identify the three most fundamental current presuppositions

you have, or have had, about your organization - your business,

your not for profit, and the industry or market that you

operate in or serve to.

Now I want to give you some examples of those in a moment

or two, but think about the three most fundamental presuppositions

that pre-covid you operated under, and then rebuild with three

things you know will be true in whatever it is we're heading into (I refuse

to say 'The New Norm'l because

I don't know any better than you do whether it's going to

be normal or not).

But rebuild those presuppositions with what you can be

sure of right now no matter how simplistic or fundamental

they are. In fact, the more simplistic and fundamental those

starting presuppositions - new principals, presuppositions are

the better.

I'll give you an example -and the reason

this is foremost in my mind is that I did this exercise last

week with a group of people were trying to get their head

around what all of this means for the airline industry.

Obviously hugely impacted

By covid and so I facilitated this template as the starting

point and we spent about two and a half hours in the morning

of the day that we set aside,

first of all identifying the three main presuppositions that

existed pre Covid and here's what they came up with (they're

the industry experts -

It was up to them to come up with what they felt were those

presuppositions). And they were first of all that there was

such a strong inbuilt need and desire to travel

by air that the airline industry would always have sustainable

demand. That was the first one the second one was a little

niche and it may sound a little arcane if you're not in the

industry, but hey, it's what they came up with. It was that there

was a presupposition that post 9/11 and pre-Covid that

there was some residual Zeitgeist or understanding or belief

that airline travel was fun,

fundamentally somewhat glamorous and exciting and we would

get back to that if we just put up with how horrible it had

become. Now, they wordsmith that much more nicely than that -

I'm paraphrasing the conclusions that they'd come to. And

the third presupposition was about making profit from time-shifting

and that essentially predicated that I knew I'm gonna fly

from St.

Louis to Chicago and pre-Covid it was just a question of when would

I fly, compared to the pricing that as you all know, if you

have ever tried to book a plane ticket varies, depending

on what the day is. That you pick that by time-shifting by

charging me more to fly on this weekend than on that Tuesday,

the airline industry could make additional profit and that

presupposition - that that would continue - they believed was

one of the things that does not exist.

What were the presuppositions that they could get their heads

around to start thinking about a way forward through this?

First of all, most simple of all, there will always be reasons

in whatever it is that turns into being the new norm,

there will always be reasons why people have to travel by

air. Now they may be much reduced and they will be very different.

There was a long discussion about the difference between the

need to travel for business and personally, but there will

always be a basic need, (so) how can

we start with that point.

Their second presupposition was that even with a reduction

- a vast reduction - in people traveling because of major

behavioral change that will not happen - people get used to

meeting like this on the internet, Zoom etcetera, but there

will be a continued increase in moving things around. We're

buying more and more stuff

that's gotta get from point A to point B, so that presupposition

that the would be a rise in the movement of things was

the second point that they put in place. And the third one

was this.

The industry will need to answer the question.

Why should I?

Before, the default behavioral response would be let's meet

Tuesday the 15th.

I'll book a flight.

The default behavioral response will not be (subconsciously

at least) why would I do that?

And so the industry has got to address those. Now are those

three starting points - new presuppositions -

perfect? Are they even right? Would they have been different if

there'd been different people in the room?

Yes, of course, but I can assure you they give a really strong

start for what turned out to be a really highly profitable, useful

day trying to build a starting point to think about the

unthinkable. So if you're feeling a little bewildered about

where to start trying to rebuild your understanding of where

your industry is, your business is, your church, your not-for-profit,

start by unpicking your existing presuppositions and building

back up again with three things that you can say for sure.

No matter how simplistic they are.

I hope that's been helpful.

My name's Les McKeown. If I can help you in any way in this

current climate

just reach out and let me know. Leave some comments below

on this and let's think our way out of this.


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  1. Les, thank you very much for this insightful thought.
    Can you please elaborate what will be the next step after doing this exercise? Is there a specific reason for choosing three presuppositions?

    1. Sure! The next step is to use those presuppositions to start building your strategic response to this current crisis – how should your product or service change as a result? What are the sales and marketing implications? If in doubt how to do this, read each new presupposition out loud and ask yourself (out loud 🙂 “So what?”. write the answer down and turn it in to an action point.

      Hope this helps. – Les

  2. Les, I truly value your insights. I’m praying for you and your leadership during this unprecedented time in History. May God bless you and sustain you as you help organizations and leaders navigate this difficult time.

  3. Les, A very thought provoking and “pause” subject to reflex on. Pausing to look at what we “assume” will “always” occur and realize that today this foundation is rocked. Appreciate your insights and look forward to arriving at the other side of this specific “whitewater”.

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