The Russo-Ukraine War has now lasted over a year. Throughout the conflict, western military strategists have continued to overestimate the strength of Russian forces and underestimate Ukraine’s capabilities. From an initial belief that Russia would capture Kyiv in a matter of days, through to warnings that Ukraine would not be able to defend the city of Bakhmut, analysts in Washington and other western capitals have been proved consistently wrong.
Yet Washington’s underlying belief of Russian superiority seems to continue. The latest analysis is that Ukraine will struggle to recapture Crimea in any counter-offensive.
The big problem is that these beliefs are self-defeating. They lead to policy decisions that limit Ukraine’s ability to defend its territory and defeat the Russian forces. It took many months of persuasion, for example, for the west to provide the high-performance tanks that Ukraine was asking for, and Ukraine still hasn’t been supplied with F-16 fighter jets or longer-range missiles that could disrupt Russia’s supply chain and make a Ukrainian victory both quicker and more likely.
Changing shared beliefs and world views, even when the evidence is there to do so, is one of the toughest leadership and organisational challenges. After starting to lose share in the 1980s, for example, it took US car manufacturers a further 20 years to fundamentally come to terms with the fact that manufacturing capabilities of Toyota and other Japanese brands were systematically superior to Ford, GM and Chrysler.
Yet, once you do reset the paradigm through which you view your business and your markets, the results can be powerful. The performance of Greggs, for instance, has been transformed by a shift in its leaders’ belief of the business from being a bakery store to being a “food-on-the-go retailer that is accessible to everyone, whoever and wherever they are, and whatever the meal occasion.” Similarly, Lou Gerstrner turned round the decline of IBM and re-established it as a tech giant after realising that the business needed to change its belief and focus from being a a hardware manufacturer to a being provider of bespoke customer solutions.
I’m not arguing that you should be unreasonably optimistic or that you should simply ‘build it and they will come’. I am proposing, however, that you spend time ensuring that your beliefs about the potential of your business and markets reflects reality. This requires that you ask more questions, rather than feeling that you must have all the answers, that you create an environment where people can openly share ideas and issues, that you look for cause not blame, and that you regularly seek out new, fresh external views of the business.
What are your own beliefs about your business, and how grounded are they in the reality of its current situation?
Off The Record: Something Changed by Pulp
I wrote this song two hours before we met,
I didn’t know your name or what you looked like yet.
Oh, I could have stayed at home and gone to bed – I could have gone to see a film instead,
You might have changed your mind and seen your friends,
Life could have been very different, but then –