Or Why everything you thought you knew is wrong!
The ancient philosopher Plato suggested that people everywhere live most of their lives like prisoners trapped in a cave. The prisoners are confined in their viewpoint and can only see shadows on the inner wall of the cave. They believe these shadows to be real. One day a prisoner escapes, makes her way out of the cave and discovers true reality. I think this is a highly useful metaphor for our own lives and businesses. The shadows represent the assumptions we all make. The things we think are true but actually aren’t. There are three big ones:
1) Assumptions about our ability: most of us have a default blindspot about what we can do. Maybe someone belittled our efforts long ago or we tried something and it didn’t go well so we made up our minds that ‘I’m no good at that,’ or simply, ‘I can’t’. Recent research by Carol Dweck (see her book Mindset) suggests that we are all far more able than we think: the critical factor is not innate intelligence or talent but effort and practice. Others have documented the 10,000 hour rule: 10,000 hours of practice over ten years is what’s required to be world class in any complex activity. Yet we artificially limit ourselves by our mindset – our internalised beliefs about what we can or cannot do.
2) Assumptions about our purpose: the belief that life is about getting more stuff and having more fun. In a consumeristic culture this is another default. But equally it is an unrelenting and unfulfilling pursuit. JD Rockerfeller was once asked, What makes a billionaire happy? His answer: “Just that little bit more.” If we buy into this assumption we can find ourselves on a treadmill that only gets faster..
3) Assumptions about our identity: we have been conditioned since the day we were born with expectations about how we are supposed to be. Based on boys and girls gift cards alone it would seem that girls are supposed to like ponies, fairies, cupcakes and pink. Boys are supposed to like dinosaurs, trucks, football and blue. We never had a choice in this. It was forced upon us. And in a myriad of other different ways we have been repeatedly told how we should be which has constrained us from simply being ourselves.
The challenge for each of us, says Plato, is to question these shadows and find the truth. When it comes to you or your business, what limitations have you placed upon yourself? Do you ever hear yourself saying, ‘we can’t do that’? Or ‘It won’t work.’ Question it: Why not? Who says?
And what about your purpose? Do you know? Is it just to make more money? What’s the real driver? Have you discovered your WHY? A clear purpose statement around which your team can align themselves?
Finally are you doing what you’re supposed to be doing? Not what someone else says you should be doing but what really excites, motivates and enthuses you? Are you being yourself, true to your core values? That’s what will differentiate you in any market place – because there’s only one you. And when you are truly authentic no-one can buy what you do anywhere else. Next month I’ll tell you how to get out of the cave…