Flexible Thinking Versus Rigid Thinking

The Most Important Quality

In 1995, the Menninger Institute of New York conducted a study to determine the most important quality or qualities that would be necessary for business success in the twenty-first century. It finally concluded that the most important quality required for success would be “flexibility.”
It would be the ability to rapidly react and respond to the accelerating rate of change in all areas. The development of this attitude of flexibility, accepting that “the answers have changed,” would give an individual or organization a tremendous advantage over more rigid and inflexible competitors.

[wcm_restrict]Get SmartThe Three Enemies

Three enemies of change and flexibility must be countered head-on. The first and worst is the “comfort zone.” People start doing or working at something and quickly become comfortable. They then resist any change, even positive change that requires them to do something new or different.
Instead of learning, growing, and expanding their envelope of possibilities, they dig in their heels, justify and rationalize their resistance to change, and often sabotage the change efforts of others.

In Warren Bennis’s book, Leaders, he describes how the top people in his study resisted the pull of the comfort zone by setting bigger and bigger goals for themselves and their organizations, goals that would be impossible to achieve without major changes and improvements.

In Peter Diamandis’s 2015 book, Bold, he urges mold breakers and earth shakers to set goals to achieve ten times or 100 times their current levels of sales, income, and profitability in the years ahead. This size of goal, which seems overwhelming at first, soon leads to expanded thinking and new ideas to “go where no man has ever gone before” (Star Trek).

Fear Holds People Back

The second major obstacle to flexibility, to challenging and questioning the status quo, is fear of all kinds, but especially the fear of failure. “What if we try something new and it doesn’t work?”

According to the October 2013 Harvard Business Review, the major obstacles to business model innovation are fear and uncertainty. Eighty percent of corporate executives rank business model innovation ahead of the development of new products and services in terms of importance. But they don’t know how to do it, so they procrastinate and hope that the next generation of leaders will make the changes that will be necessary to survive and thrive.

Feeling Unable to Change

The third reason that people fear and resist change is “learned helplessness.” The individuals responsible know that change is essential, but they feel that they are helpless, caught up in the complexities of the current situation and unable to change.

Learned helplessness is expressed in the words “I can’t” or “We can’t.” What then follows is a litany of excuses in terms of not enough time, not enough money, not enough available talent, and other explanations for why change is not possible that involve a number of external pressures and internal limitations.

But as Winston Churchill said, “If you don’t fight when you have a chance of victory, you will soon have to fight when you have no chance at all.” The rule is to change when you can, not when you have to or have no other choice.

They should have told this to the executives at Blockbuster, who dominated the market for video movies to be viewed at home. When Netflix came along, the people at Blockbuster dismissed it as a small company that could never challenge the dominance of Blockbuster in the national market. But customer tastes had changed, and within a few years Netflix was the biggest player in the delivery of movies, both by mail and online, and Blockbuster was bankrupt.

Excerpted from Get Smart!: How to Think and Act Like the Most Successful and Highest-Paid People in Every Field by Brian Tracy. © 2016 by Brian Tracy. TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Brian Tracy is chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a company specializing in the training and development of individuals and organizations. Tracy’s books include Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life: How to Unlock Your Full Potential for Success and Achievement, and most recently Get Smart!: How to Think and Act Like the Most Successful and Highest-Paid People in Every Field. His writing has appeared in Entrepreneur, Success, Fast Company, and Forbes among many others. Learn more at