Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The power of impossible thinking

The title of this blog isn't my own - it comes from a brilliant book by Jerry Wind. So what is impossible thinking and what does it mean to business, healthcare and the spread of good practice? To use one of the most famous examples - let's review the breaking over the four minute mile by Roger Bannister in 1954. At that time the perceived wisdom was that to break the barrier required a specific set of circumstances, like a certain temperature, no wind and a track of hard clay. And a large home crowd cheering on the runner would also help. What did Bannister do? He set out on a cold English day, on a wet track in front of a small crowd - and broke the record.

It's what happened next that is interesting. The four minute barrier had stood for decades. As soon as Banister broke it, everyone else started beating his times, and they continue to do so. It was as though the mental barrier was broken and to do that it meant breaking through a significant amount of "perceived wisdom".

So I wonder what "perceived wisdom" we have that is holding up the rapid spread of ideas and good practice across our organisations? What barriers do we have to implementation? One that bother me is the constant lowering of expectations and improvement targets on the basis they could never be reached. As these are then accumulated across the organisation they then accumulate their weaknesses.

Some mental spring cleaning perhaps? Questions to provoke:

  • What significant barrier to improvement needs to be broken?
  • What is the pereceived wisdom and how can it be reframed and challenged?
  • If the barrier is broken, what might be the size of the prize?

Creative Commons 2008 Sarah Fraser Attribution-Non-Commercial-Non-Derivative

No comments: