One question can change everything

Lots of businesses fail to reinvent themselves because their leaders develop an emotional attachment to what worked in the past. What George Orwell called protective stupidity. Let me give you a compelling example of that.

In 1985 Intel found themselves in a classic business dilemma. For years the company had been very successful selling memory chips, but because memory chips were becoming a commodity business Intel had increasing problems keeping up with the competition. As a percentage of its sales volume, memory chips had begun to decline relative to microprocessors. In 1985 the decline was steep.

It seemed obvious that Intel should focus on the future (microprocessors) and forget the past (memory chips), but it is easier said than done. In business, it is easier to get into something than to get out of it. Especially if your whole corporate identify is attached to one brand or one product. For almost two years Intel was paralyzed and couldn’t make the decision. But one question changed everything.

In 1985, Intel’s co-founder Andy Grove was having a discussion in his office with CEO, Gordon Moore, about the problem. They were not in a good mood. After a while Grove asked Gordon: “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?

Without hesitation Gordon answered: He would get us out of memory chips. And Andy Grove said:Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back, and do it ourselves?

That’s what they did and Intel became a massive success! But what happened? Grove and Moore’s IQ did not suddenly change, but the one question allowed them to liberate themselves from the emotional attachment to memory chips.

That is exactly what leaders have to do when making decisions about re-inventing themselves. When reality pushes you in one direction and your emotions pull you in another you must be able to take a step back and observe the situation with an outsiders view.

Think about it. If an outsider got your job, what would he do? Maybe the answer to that question shows you where you need to go.

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