Perspective matters a lot. It is our brain’s own unique filter through which we take in the world as we encounter it. And it’s unavoidable. We encounter far too much world that, if our brains were to try to absorb every single detail of it, we’d get quite literally nothing done. Imagine you had to re-learn that what your eyes were seeing was a dog every time you saw a slightly different one (like a mixed breed or one that didn’t have the exact same colour pattern that you had seen before?) It would take days to walk a single block of Queen street west because we’d encounter what our brain would perceive to be a “strange new thing” every 30 seconds. (It’s hard enough already just trying not to pet all those cute pups!)
Luckily, instead, our brains are designed to take knowledge we’ve already acquired (“that is a dog breed called Golden Retriever”) and apply it to a new piece of information (“that creature walks on four legs, is medium sized, is golden in colour and has curly hair”) in order to make a justified jump to conclusion (“that is probably a dog that is a breed similar to the Golden Retriever.”)
Our brains are constantly making those little justified jumps to conclusions as we go about our day. And different people with different knowledge make different little jumps. That’s perspective. And because it’s always on, it has an enormous influence on what we as individuals perceive is possible and, in turn, what we believe we’re capable of.
We take perspective – it is not given to us (although it can be heavily imposed upon us by authority figures and other social influences.) And if we choose to be more mindful of what our own unique variety of little jumps are and of what other varieties of little jumps exist, we suddenly gain an abundance of choice when it comes to how we see the world.
A recent article by Psychology Today describes our perspective as “arguably the single greatest aspect of our uniqueness.” For ambitious entrepreneurs, who know that “what makes you unique makes you valuable”, personal perspective can be an incredible differentiator.
Entrepreneurs face many constraints on their journey to build and create things. They also face detractors all too often along the way. Ambitious entrepreneurs know the importance of perspective empirically. Every entrepreneur has faced all too many nay-sayers and skeptics who held perspectives that were at odds with the entrepreneur’s own. And yet, these ambitious entrepreneurs pressed forward anyway, oftentimes proving through their actions and resulting success that their perspective was not only valid but valuable.
That’s the irony (and the take away.) The refusal to accept the current-day rulebook and the constraints it imposes upon us is what ultimately leads to game-changing innovation and differentiation.
And it all starts with perspective.
This article argues that ‘taking perspective’ is the first step to overcoming constraints and building an enormously successful business.
Mohamad Fakih came to Canada with almost nothing. He worked very hard. Saved a lot. And eventually Fakih found himself in a position where a fellow immigrant – from whom he was simply buying take-out at the time – asked to borrow a rather large sum of money to save his struggling restaurant. That restaurant was Paramount Fine Foods – now a very successful franchise with 76+ locations and, notably, the sports complex in Mississauga formerly known as The Hershey Center, proudly sharing its name.
Abiding by the current-day rulebook, Fakih could have easily justified ignoring the stranger’s plea for a small fortune. Fakih had no obligation. He had his own responsibilities to tend to and had worked very hard earning that money. No one would have blamed him for saying no.
But Fakih’s own principles were at odds with the current-day rulebook. He saw himself in that man. He remembered all the help he had benefited from over the years. Fakih’s perspective on the matter led him to invest in the man – giving him a cool quarter-million dollars.
The man did exactly what the current day rulebook would caution against: He almost immediately mismanaged the funds, decided to throw in the towel and leave Canada and handed ownership of the restaurant over to Fakih.
Freshly disappointed from his last leap of faith, Fakih now faced another daunting current-day rule book constraint: attempting to recover his investment by operating the failing restaurant without any experience in the food services industry whatsoever.
And we now know how that worked out for Mohamad Fakih: really, really well.
And it can work out really, really well for you too if you leverage the constraints and limitations you face to take a new perspective and build a differentiated business. Here’s one way to get started:
Reframe the constraints you face in as many other ways you can possibly think of.
Play a game with your management team (or, even better your front-line staff) called “What Else Could It Be?” Here’s an example:
Constraint: We don’t have enough money to pay for marketing and advertising and therefore can’t grow our top line
Reframe 1: We have time to develop strategic partnerships (because we’re not spending it on marketing campaigns) and therefore have time to develop higher price point products and services
Reframe 2: We have more time to spend strengthening our relationships with the customers we already have, increasing their loyalty and willingness to recommend their friends and family.
Reframe 3: We can come up with new ways to market ourselves that do not require money, improving profitability and our ability to invest in our continued growth and development.
To quote curator and art advocate, Sarah Lewis from her book, The Rise: The “key to the great mystery of life and progress” [has been] the ability of men and women to fashion a mental or material picture and let his or her entire world, sentiments, and vision of every other living thing be affected by it.”
Encourage your team (and your own brain) to develop new mental pictures of the roadblocks and detours you cross paths with every day. Go as far as to translate some of these mental pictures onto paper independently and then present them to each other. Identify what’s similar and what’s different between and what those findings might be able to tell you about how you could reframe and therefore overcome a roadblock or two.
While the old rulebook might’ve claimed that doing the right thing for people and community was inherently a cost and therefore more bad than good for business, Fakih’s perspective was different.
He saw his own humanitarian efforts and generosity in business as a great way to gain trust and commitment from his team and the communities his businesses serve, stating “You don’t only help them change their life. It’s actually beneficial to the company, beneficial to the country entirely. They want to overperform.”
He credited his success in part to the kindness and charity he received from others stating, “If those people didn’t help me, I wouldn’t be able to be who I am today” and committed himself to paying it forward.
Today, he perceives working in the restaurant industry as “one of the most rewarding experiences” he’s ever had – even though others perceive the same industry to only offer temporary, transient work.
And when he purchased the naming rights of the former Hershey Center, Fakih didn’t see it as a marketing opportunity like others would. Instead he believed the Paramount Fine Food Center would represent what his company is all about: community coming together to celebrate diverse cultures.
Such stand-out success is within reach of any entrepreneur open-minded enough to challenge the “little jumps” their brain has influenced how they view a challenge and adopt a new perspective to leap and bound from.
By nature, such an endeavour will be tricky to start. Adopting a new cognitive reality is not so simple. Seeing alternatives to the deeply-ingrained status-quo is not so easy. I can help.
As a human-centered strategist, I collaborate with Canadian businesses to systematically deconstruct problems, uncover new meaning and, ultimately, design more effective customer-facing systems and content. If you’re struggling to reshape a persistent perspective in your pursuit to solve customer problems, nurture a productive workforce and achieve stand-out success, I can help you overcome it.
Stephanie Ruth Grimbly is a ‘human-centered strategist’ and creative problem-solver. She combines traditional business practices with emerging innovation disciplines to reveal insights about customer preferences and develop stand-out strategies for Canadian businesses.