- Chew On This
- The Power of Impossible Thinking
The Power of Impossible Thinking
From books to bites! Get 3 major takeaways from this book written by Wharton Biz School profs (without the book).
Welcome back for some more bites to chew on.
From Books to Bites
We’re trying out a new type of COT content where we’ll condense books relevant to eComm bizfolk and entrepreneurs into some relevant takeaways.
And feel free to disagree with the books’ arguments + points!
First book in line: The Power of Impossible Thinking, by two Wharton biz profs, Colin Crook and Yoram Wind.
Book TLDR: A “mental model” is your brain’s way of processing the world and filing elements of it. They’re limited and biased. Changing them and thinking in a previously “impossible” way requires serious effort but can be revolutionary and key to new success.
The 4-minute mile & Roger Bannister: breaking limitations of mental models
Grit & Determination vs. Reality
How to “see” differently
Bite 1: The Bannister Effect & Breaking Limitations
Running a sub-4min mile was thought to be impossible… Until Roger Bannister ran the first one in 1954.
There are mile records dating to 1855 (best mile then was 4:28), and it took 101 years to get below 4mins.
John Landy broke Roger Bannister’s record less than 50 days later.
15 other runners broke 4mins within a few years.
Roger Bannister didn’t represent some new type of human. Bannister, a doctor, tested and refined his training protocols over time in ways that others had not. He also benefited from the training of runners before him.
And, crucially, his mental model aligned with a reality in which breaking the 4min mark was not only possible but going to happen.
There are some takeaways here that apply to entrepreneurial thinking and running a brand:
Always question the ideas of impossibility and limitation. While certain things probably are impossible (nobody’s running a sub-3min mile until we’re partially bionic), there is often room for optimization and improvement. Even if conventional wisdom and DTC talking heads say the opposite.
Create systems. “Running” tests, of course, is important. We all love an A/B test, but developing architectures and protocols through which you run and document those tests is equally important. Don’t test in a vacuum.
Learn from your competitors. You’re not going to think of everything, and that’s okay. John Landy benefited from Roger Bannister, and Roger Bannister benefited from Gunder Hägg (the previous record holder).
Bite 2: Grit & Determination vs. Reality
A scoop of balance now.
The authors ask, “When does the ‘brave determination’ to champion a new vision become ‘a blind refusal to see reality’?”
Or, to put it differently: When is our romanticism of “the grind” to reach our goals of growth and innovation actually foolish?
And the ultimate point: When do you need to change your mental model?
Some signs the authors provide:
“Outliers and ‘just-noticeable differences:’” I.e., Noticing changes in the environment around you. What small changes in individual and societal behavior are happening? Where does your brand fit in? They advise: “Create processes for reporting the information around the fringes.”
Avoiding “cognitive lock:” If your main training is in marketing, do you tend to see things as exclusively marketing problems?
Create an early warning system: TLDR—analytics. Disasters do happen, but organizational change shouldn’t only occur after they strike. In our context, religiously tracking your KPIs (and building a reporting system) will show you the iceberg miles away, not when you’re 10ft from it and are f***ed.
TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS: It’s unlikely you’re able to run Nabisco-style focus groups around taste (or the equivalent in your DTC vertical), but asking your customers for feedback will rarely be a wasted effort. Another method is to leverage the ol’ employees (+/or friends and family) method, which Michael Tierney (founder of Stuffed Puffs) talks about here on an episode of Chew On This.
Bite 3: How to “See” Differently
“How do you cultivate the ability to see differently?” Remove your blinders?
Or, a throwback (not in the book): “Think Different.”
Remember when Apple’s logo looked like this? No? Get off our lawn then, young timer.
The authors do borrow at least one page out of Apple’s book (we’re unsure if it’s intentional).
“Listen to the radicals,” they write. And to quote Apple’s famous ad:
Here's to the crazy ones.
The round pegs in the square holes.
Who’s making the bold predictions, and talking about the world as it will be? Who’s throwing the ball ahead of the receiver rather than behind them? These are the folks you should at least have your ear turned toward.
Or, are you one of them?
“Embark on journeys of discovery.” Your journey may be actual travel and gaining some inspo from around the world, but it also may be an intellectual journey. What new culture exists or is developing in demographics beyond your brand’s, and might it influence your brand? Do your employees use your products, and how? Where is the next marketing frontier? How much do you talk to innovators in the 3PL space?
“Look across disciplines:” Whether it was Roger Bannister leveraging a consistent and scientific testing method, or reading eComm (and other biz) history to enrich your understanding of technological change and what to look out for, you likely have lessons hiding where you don’t typically hang out.
Cash is said to be king, but to us, free cash flow is king.
And so is runway.
We use Parker to maximize both free cash flow and runway by stacking financial tactics:
We get “Net 30” from our suppliers (i.e., we don’t have to pay for product until 30 days later).
We use our Parker card on top of the Net 30 for an additional 30-60 days.
This way, the business runway doesn’t look like this…
And we get close to a negative cash conversion cycle, which is (and this is true) absolutely excellent.
For more about Parker and optimizing how you pay for your biz, click here.
We sincerely appreciate every moment you spend with us and reading our work. We’ll see you soon.
All the best,
Ron & Ash