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Eliminate Misunderstandings about What's Going on and Accomplish 20 Times More
by Donald Mitchell

Organizations are hobbled by false perceptions that have always rested on faulty evidence. Those false thoughts waste resources, time, and effort by focusing attention in unproductive and counter productive areas and activities.

Here's an example: For most organizations, good ideas are 20 times more likely to come from outside the organization than within. Yet most organizations assume that almost all good good ideas will come from within and focus time, attention, and resources accordingly. It's like trying to grow strawberries in the the shade; those sun-loving plants won't do well if you believe they prosper best in the shade.

The misunderstanding-of-the-facts stall (a bad habit that reduces results) is particularly harmful because some of your best people already realize that you are operating on faulty assumptions. Since actions based on those assumptions are folly, these key employees are losing faith in the future of the organization and the quality of its leadership. Soon, you may find recovery from your mistakes is made more difficult as your most talented people seek other opportunities.

Misleading Beliefs: The Danger of False Assumptions Abounds

How is a misunderstanding-of-the-facts stall different from a disbelief stall? A disbelief stall is based on something that was once true, but no longer is. A misunderstanding-of-the-facts stall is based on a belief that was never true. Here are some examples of harmful misconceptions:

• The future can be accurately forecast.

• Competitors will stand still while we make rapid progress.

• Agreement among colleagues means that issues are understood.

• Customers will make the decisions in the same ways they always have.

All long-held assumptions and beliefs should be questioned. Ask yourself:

• Is it really true?

• If it isn't true, why do people believe it to be true?

• What's needed to persuade people to change their beliefs?

Titanic Misconceptions: A Stitch in Time

The fate of the Titanic illustrates several dimensions of the misunderstanding-of-the-facts stall. It was an obvious misunderstanding of the facts to believe that the ship was unsinkable and to provide too few life boats for the passengers and crew. We have learned from that error. Today, we've learned from the Titanic's experience and all liners are required to have enough life boats for everyone.

The actual sinking related to a different misunderstanding of the facts, one about the weather. Normally, icebergs in the North Atlantic would have not have been floating on the Titanic's path during that frigid night in April 1912. The captain disregarded a report from another ship that icebergs had moved to a more southerly latitude. Why? He believed that icebergs never traveled that far south during this season. If the captain had double-checked with other available sources of information, such as other ships and shore stations, he might have gotten a confirmation that icebergs were loose in his area in time to slow down and avoid the sinking. None of the 1,503 deaths would have occurred had the ship slowed down in the iceberg-infested seas, or, better still, had the captain chosen a more southerly route where there were no icebergs.

The ship's collision with the iceberg was made worse by a command to turn away from the looming iceberg. It's anyone's instinct to avoid a collision. In this situation, that instinct was based on a misconception. While many would have suffered broken bones and some would have died from injuries during a head-on collision, the Titanic would probably not have sunk after such a collision. Few of its watertight compartments would have been breached. Because the ship turned, the iceberg slashed along the entire length of the ship on one side, resulting in almost half the watertight compartments being breached. If all those compartments filled with sea water, the Titanic would sink. None of its designers had ever considered the possibility the ship would sideswipe an iceberg along so much of her length.

Once struck, another misconception sealed the ship's doom. No one checked soon enough to see how bad the damage was. Subsequent investigations have shown that the combined area breached in the ship's side was less than ten square feet, across many different "watertight" compartments. With fast action, rescue crews could have placed mattresses and waterproof liners over enough of the gashes in the least damaged compartments to have kept the ship afloat until rescuers arrived.

Passengers also didn't want to take their chances with an early life boat in the North Atlantic, feeling they were safer on board. Many of the life boats were launched without a full complement. Many other life boats couldn't be launched later because the ship was listing so hard on the side where the iceberg struck its sideways blow.

Once the Titanic was in peril, misunderstanding of the facts once again weighed in to create unnecessary harm. The captain of the Californian, a nearby ship large enough to rescue everyone aboard the Titanic, was alerted by the watch that Titanic was launching distress flares. The captain decided these pyrotechnics must be some kind of celebration and sailed on. All this captain had to do to avoid this mistake was to wake up his radioman and ask the Titanic, "You're not sinking, are you?"

The lesson to be learned is that we can change course and avoid icebergs that can mortally damage our organizations. We don't have to steam at top speed through treacherous waters without enough life boats simply because we misunderstand the dangers.

Copyright 2007 Donald W. Mitchell, All Rights Reserved

Donald Mitchell may be contacted at

Donald Mitchell is chairman and CEO of Mitchell and Company, a strategy and financial consulting firm in Weston, MA. He is coauthor of six books including The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, and The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook. Free advice for accomplishing 20 times more is available to you by registering at =====> .


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