Source: HBR Blog, Dec 2010
Most thinking about strategy, competition, and innovation emphasizes the intricacies of business models: revenues, costs, niches, leverage. But mental models are what separate organizations that break from the pack from those that are stuck in the middle of the road. That’s why startups often come so far so fast, and have had such an enormous impact on the economy — even when they go head-to-head with giant rivals that can draw on more money, power, and traditional clout. They are successful precisely because they don’t look, talk, behave, or compete like other companies in their fields. They are outliers, extremists, game changers.
What’s also striking about such start-from-scratch innovators is that their extreme opinions often leave the old guard baffled, confused, and unable to muster an extreme makeover. It’s certainly possible for incumbents to devise creative responses to fast-changing markets, fast-moving technologies, and demanding customers. But most big companies fail miserably at making big change, and the biggest obstacle is the pull of old mental models — how comfortable it feels to be pretty good at everything, how unsettling it feels to become the most of something.