Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mindset, Game, & Match

If you look up the word "mindset" in the dictionary, here's what you get: "a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person's responses to and interpretations of situations" and "habits of mind formed by previous experience."
I looked it up for two reasons.
First, because Jared Diamond's explanation for how societies collapse includes a healthy does of "mindset myopia." Societies vanish because their mindsets preclude them from seeing reality as it is.
Second, because I just got back from Detroit, where I saw mindset myopia first hand, up close and personal.
It's hard to imagine a high-ranking official of what they still call "The Big 3" in Detroit standing up in front of a crowd of intelligent, well-informed business people and telling them with a straight face that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, that the worst is behind us, and that the economy--and the auto industry--will all go back to the way things were before the Great Recession. It's hard to imagine such an executive making fun of sustainable energy, mocking it really, as a false direction to pursue. It's hard to image such an executive suggesting that the U.S. auto industry is poised for a great year, a big rebound, a return to the glory days.
But that's what I heard with my own ears.
Now I didn't do a survey of the people in the audience. But if any of them were buying what he was selling, well, I would consider that prima facie evidence of mindset myopia.
You can't make people see what they assiduously want to avoid. You can't make them see what their mindsets rule out as possible.
The story is told that when the first Black Ships approached Japan, the Japanese announced that dragons were off shore. Their mindsets allowed for the existence of dragons, but not of Black Ships.
Michigan has many great strengths, although at the moment its economy is in dire distress.
For 30 years, it's ridden the ups and downs of the auto industry, its suppliers hanging on for dear life, like a friend or lover who's got a drunk in the family. The old saying goes, the drunk clutches the bottle, and the friend clutches the drunk.
A little more than 30 years ago the US Department of Justice was seriously thinking about an anti-trust suit to break up GM, carve off Chevy, because GM had too much market share.
Globalization took care of that problem, with GM as an incompetent accomplice.
But you'd think that after the last 30 years, the Big 3 and the suppliers and the people of Michigan would have had enough of the roller-coaster ride.
That everyone would realize that it's time to take the state's considerable strengths, and the supplier base's great talent pool, and even the auto maker's remaining capabilities, and look at the world with fresh eyes.
To become entrepreneurs. To compete on talent, creativity, innovation, and imagination.
To use the opportunity afforded by near collapse to avert total collapse.
To face the brutal facts of life, as Jim Collins says, and to construct a new mindset.
Otherwise, it's game, set, match.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb