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Spotting Your Organizations Orthodoxies

Often the very factors of success around which you launch, build, and manage an organization
can turn on you like a venomous snake. The framework that worked so well, for so long, now
limits the growth of the place. At some points the factors have turned into choke points.
But your organization is geared by its way of doing things, its orthodoxies. So you keep
pushing harder, doing more of the same, denying new competitive threats and emerging
You never make the decision to cannibalize your own leadership, like Gillette, and yet new,
disruptive threats emerge onto the landscape, like the Dollar Shave Club to extend the
Remember the cautionary tale of DEC.
Started in the late 1950s and peaking in the 1980s, DEC was a $14 billion business, one of the
most profitable companies in America. They were expected to usher in the age of real
computing. But their leader, Ken Olsen, was trend-resistant, and even worse, an autocrat. He
didnt believe PCs would have any place in business and were nothing more than toys for
playing video games. By 1992, the board asked him to resign, the company continued to lose
billions and was ultimately dismantled bits and pieces going to various other companies.
They were stuck, rigidly fixed, inside an orthodox. So, what is an orthodoxy? A deeply or
widely held belief, self-imposed boundary or rule. Orthodoxies often begin as rules of the
game developed by successful pioneers in the business. They represent a mindset that was
once highly effective to business growth, but no longer has long-term value.
Look for orthodoxies. If your organization can spot and name them, they can be turned into
real value.
Exposing orthodoxies helps reveal existing assumptions, blind spots, and limiting behaviors.
Challenging or overturning them can lead to new opportunities from looking at our business
model in a new way.

Spot orthodoxies in these areas: Who is our customer? What form the product or service
should be? How we go to market? Who are competitors are? The way we decide on new
products and pricing? How we do things around here, the [fill in the blank] way.
Like a 5-year-old asking why five times, ask about these long-running orthodoxies. They are
not, nor do they have to be, absolutes of reality. They can change.
Here are three simple questions you can ask to spot and begin to overturn orthodoxies:
1. What are things you never hear anyone say about our organization?
2. What if Disney bought us to enter this business? What would they change and how?
3. What opportunities have we missed because of orthodoxies?
List them. List the vulnerabilities that were exposed. Then, come up with five ways to
activate new thinking, new actions and new value that were limited by the identified
Michael Graber, managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, can be reached
at southerngrowthstudio.com.