1STMovement: Think Differently
Your ability to conceive of real and substantive change and the future possibilities and potentialities that you can envision are constrained and limited by the way you think: that is, by your habits of mind. What are habits of mind? Habits of mind are sets of specific expectations, beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and judgments that dictate how we see the world: habits of mind influence the decisions we make, the actions we take, and how we see the world. Habits of mind are the broad, generalized sets of mental models that each of us uses that automatically guide our actions and behaviors. Habits of mind and mental models tell us how and why the world works the way it does. We often call our mental models “facts”, “the truth”, or “reality”.
Habits of mind have a powerful influence over our lives. Here is one example of the power of a habit of mind that is well aligned with the consciousness and values of a business.
A Southwest Airlines Habit of Mind
The motto of Southwest Airlines, whose New York Stock Exchange ticker symbol is LUV, is “More Than a Way to Fly – A Way of Life”. About itself, Southwest Airlines declares: “We consider ourselves much more than just a business; we are a neighbor in the community where you live”. Whether this statement is lip service to a higher ideal or a lived reality depends upon the habits of mind of Southwest’s employees.
On January 5th, 2011 a Southwest pilot held a Tucson-bound plane for twelve minutes to wait for a passenger trying to get to a hospital to say goodbye to his two-and-one-half year old grandson who was about to be taken off of life support. The wife of the passenger told reporters: “He got to say goodbye thanks to Southwest. I am so grateful for the airline doing what it did”.
In this situation, the captain faced a tradeoff of competing objectives. The captain could have departed on time. In so doing the captain would have achieved Southwest’s performance objectives for on time departures and arrivals, for maximizing the return on investment of the aircraft, and for fulfilling the need of the more than one hundred passengers on board to depart on time. But the captain, after consideration, set aside those objectives and instead delayed the departure to allow a single person to catch the flight. In this instance, the habits of mind from which the Southwest captain acted, were dictated by the specific expectations, beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and judgments embodied in the culture and consciousness of Southwest Airlines: that is, “we consider ourselves much more than just a business; we are a neighbor in the community where you live”.
Changing Habits of Mind: Changing The Way you Think
The above example demonstrates how habits of mind work to powerfully influence the decisions we make, the actions we take, and color the future we can envision. In this example, the cultural values of Southwest Airlines were embodied in the captain as habits of mind. The habits of mind allowed the captain to live the ideals of Southwest rather than pay lip service to them.
This is a good example of the sustaining power of habits of mind. But imagine for a moment, that you would like your future to be very different from your past. Further, imagine that the future you want to create is much like that expressed by Southwest’s commitment to being a “neighbor in the community, not just a business”. If today you are “just a business”, then your actions, which are automatically dictated by your habits of mind, will work to maintain and reinforce your status as “just a business”. In fact, you would come to learn that your “just a business” habits of mind are significant barriers that are preventing you from achieving the transformational and sustainable changes necessary to become a “neighbor”. If you are seeking a future that is truly different from today, then you must change your habits of mind.
Fortunately, you can learn to change your habits of mind and mental models, and in so doing; you can enact the transformational changes needed to resolve your problems, issues, and challenges. Changing your habits of mind and mental models is liberating, freeing, and rejuvenating. But changing habits of mind doesn’t happen overnight. In this respect, your habits of mind are just like your habits of behavior. Some habits are good and some are bad. To achieve transformational change you do not need to change all of your habits of mind rather, you must become aware of and target the habits of mind that hinder you from accomplishing your intended goal. But anyone who has tried to change a bad habit like smoking, eating too much, or not exercising can attest to just how difficult it is to change a habit. And just like a dyed-in-the-wool smoker, there are some habits of mind that dictate unhealthy behaviors without our even being aware that we have a habit or that it is unhealthy.
In the first of the Fisher Israel 4Movements, we teach our clients how to recognize and become aware of both individual and organizational habits of mind. This is the first step in changing the way you know. By breaking free from habits of everyday life and awakening to the illusion that tomorrow cannot be radically different from today, the first movement creates openness in the individual and organization. This openness to other ways of thinking and knowing is the first step toward a future that is very different from the past.