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On the Brink

Are You On the Brink to See Opportunities Right Before You?

Are You On the Brink to See Opportunities Right Before You?

Are You On the Brink to See Opportunities Right Before You?

Are you on the brink of finding fantastic new ways to grow your business? Or, are you stalled and trying to figure out how to get going again? Maybe there are acres of diamonds just waiting for you?

All those Acres of Diamonds await you!

There’s a great story famously told by Russell Herman Conwell, an American Baptist minister and founder of Temple University. It is an ancient Persian tale of a wealthy but dissatisfied farmer who sells his farm and travels the world to look for a diamond mine. After years of searching, the farmer’s quest ends fruitlessly, and he tragically dies in poverty. Meanwhile, the man who buys the farmer’s land one day finds a shiny black rock in one of the streams that runs through the property. As it turns out, that shiny black rock is a diamond!

Thrilled with his discovery, the new owner starts scouring his land and soon finds that the farm is literally littered with acres of diamonds. There, on the farm one man sold in order to finance his world-wide search for a diamond mine is one of the most lucrative diamond mines on earth, with its jewels now decorating the crowns of monarchs. The moral of the story, of course, is that sometimes what we are looking for is right there under our nose if only we knew how to look
for it.

(Quick note: If you’re a history buff who likes this tale, you can listen to a grainy recording of the original story.)

Why does this happen? Why do we miss what’s right in front of us?

The sad truth is that too many companies have a culture that operates like the farmer who sells his field and can’t see that he is surrounded by acres of diamonds.

But where are these gems? Well, sometimes they’re buried in your customers’ emails asking for services they’re not sure your company provides. Sometimes they go unnoticed in customer service conversations that end with, “No, we don’t make that.” And sometimes they are great ideas from employees who see better ways to do things but can’t find a champion who will give their ideas a chance.

So what gives? A company’s collective brain and its corporate culture are getting in the way. As the great Anaïs Nin wrote in Seduction of the Minotaur, the problem is that “we don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.” Indeed!

The problem is right there in our brains.

Modern neuroscience and functional MRIs are starting to reveal to us the inner workings of the brain. We now know that we are born with brains full of potential but as we grow and mature, we form perceptual mind maps and “stories” in our brains that help craft our reality. Once those stories and mind maps are in place, we tend to see the world through that lens, no matter what new information comes in. Then we filter and sort what is going on around us — including potential business opportunities and unmet needs — and only recognize those that fit our perceptions and existing stories.

Take a moment and think about that. We are hard-wired to see things in a way that feeds the stories we are already telling ourselves. That’s why we remain stuck in our constrained reality. And that’s also why company culture can keep us stuck there, too. 

As humans, we hate to change. Our brains try to fit what we see and hear into what we think should be there. Not only that, our brains actually create a chemical reaction that uses even more energy to learn something new — on top of our brain already using 25% of the body’s energy! Think about the last time you had to sit down and learn something new — it’s hard!

Now multiply that by the size of company culture, and you start to see what’s going on. Companies stall when the people running them have to work really hard to alter old thoughts and action patterns. It's much easier just to keep seeing and doing things in the same old way.

The question is: How can companies overcome our natural resistance to change and instead be willing to see, feel, and think in new ways so that their acres of diamonds are not overlooked?

The Company Culture Imperative

The answer to this question is to embrace the tools and methods of corporate anthropology. This is what will enable us to truly see our world and our company as they are, not as we are.

Companies are made up of people, and just like every culture we’ve built since the caveman era, they have cultures with a shared set of core values, beliefs and behaviors. To avoid rehashing the same old stories over and over again — just as our individual brains do — companies must stay vigilant and observant.

If looking for diamonds in a company's own field isn’t intentionally built into its culture, acre after acre of gems will be left unfound, right underfoot. To build a culture that is constantly looking for diamonds wherever they may be, it takes intention, and an understanding of how things like values, beliefs, and behaviors inform business challenges. 

Ready to search for your acres of diamonds? 

Want to dig deeper and lose those anchors holding you back? This might be a good time to get a copy of my new book, "On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights." In it, I share with you seven stories of companies, perhaps like yours, that were "on the brink," yet ready to soar. They just needed to step out and see what was all around them. There are lots of insights to share and an anthropology tool kit that might be of help to you as you embark on your own diamond-seeking journey.

Enjoy the read. Let us know what you find in your acres of diamonds.  

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On Jul 11, 2016 11:30:00 AM

/ Andrea Simon

On the Brink

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