Competitive advantage by questioning assumptions

Holly G. Green has in her recent post ‘Time for an Assumption Inventory?’questioned the common statement that the only sustainable competitive advantage may be the ability to learn faster than your competitors. Instead Holly G. Green argues that “The ability for leaders and managers to learn quickly is certainly a critical advantage. But the ability to learn quickly is not nearly as important as the ability to unlearn faster than your competitors. The market leaders of the future will be those companies that not only learn quickly, but can shed outdated ideas and ways of thinking faster than their competitors.”

But how do you know which ideas that have been outdated? As Holly G. Green points out it is often the ideas that have gone from ideas to assumptions that are the ones that most needs questioning, but these ideas are so fundamental to the business that they are seen as ‘facts’.  “Often, old ideas that are no longer working are the same ones that contributed the most to our current success. Because of their success, these ideas became a fundamental part of our basic assumptions regarding what we know to be true about our customers, our markets, and our industry. Over time, they changed from assumptions to ‘facts.’ Eventually they became so ingrained in our thinking that to question these ‘facts’ is considered heresy. But even for those who dare to challenge these “sacred cows,” it seems counter-intuitive to throw out what has worked so well for an extended period of time. The solution lies in taking a regular assumption inventory in order to separate the old from the new, the good from the bad, and the still working from the everything changed, so have to update ones. The key is to make our thinking as transparent as possible. As humans and as organizations, we tend to be very invested in what we know to be true. We unconsciously seek to prove what we think is right, and as a result we miss critical data that might indicate the time has come to discard our outdated viewpoints. To unlearn, we must constantly challenge what we know to be true, and then open our thinking to new and different possibilities. Taking assumption inventories on a regular basis will go a long way toward building a sustainable competitive advantage for your organization.”

The greatest competitive advantage would then not be to learn and adapt faster than your competitors but to be willing to question your basic assumptions and actually unlearn some of your business ‘facts’.