IKEA Syndrome

The day I stop learning something new, is the day I begin dying.
— Mimatsinh M. Babla, My Father, My Inspiration

My father is a young 77 years and still active selling auto parts and learning about auto parts. He can look at a part and tell you which model car/truck it belongs to and the corresponding part number that is on the shelf of his store. In essence he is a walking encyclopedia of auto parts. He has been learning and perfecting his craft since the mid-1950’s, until today. The journey of learning continues to this day.

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There are two questions I always ask during my seminars: (1) what are you doing to keep relevant? (2) do you read (not fiction) regularly?

Generally only about 10% are active in personal development and the same people happen to be the ones that also read book regularly. 1 in 10, WOW!

Now I am not suggesting that reading books is the only method for learning. However, in my view reading would have to be a prominent part of any suite of tools for personal development.

Over the years, I have observed that there are many in business who have developed the  IKEA syndrome - “I know everything  already”. This is a dangerous condition for anyone to have especially when information in the world is doubling every 2 years Per Digital Universe and according to numerous studies, based on the subject matter, human knowledge too is doubling every 2-5 years.

I would suggest that being trapped in the IKEA syndrome would be fatal to any business. Unfortunately this syndrome manifests just when new knowledge is required-the longer a business has been operating or the longer a person has been in their career. Complacency sets in and the IKEA syndrome creeps in to the business or personal psyche.

Many times “I know everything already” manifests itself in different postures:

  • “We already have this figured out”
  • “We are really good at this”
  • “We have been doing this for ____years”
  • “This is how everyone in the industry does it”
  • “This is how it is done”
  • “Ours is a people business, technology is not required” (i.e. I don’t want to take time to learn new technology)
  • “I don’t understand this new technology”
  • “You don’t understand, we have spent years perfecting _______”

When I hear such statements, my heart stops beating for a couple of seconds out of concern for that person. How will they retain their competitive advantage? How will they retain their edge? How will they retain and keep good employees? How will they keep attracting good customers who demand the best? How will they innovate? And the most serious question going through my mind, “How will they remain in business over the long run?”

A leader’s job is to create a vision for the business. By definition, vision is the act or power of anticipation’. How can someone anticipate the future if they are stuck in the past? Their entire realm of experience will be rooted in the past ignoring the changing world around them and trying to anticipate a future. To me a leader cannot do his or her job of anticipating the future without sufficient study and preparation today while appreciating the experience gained from the past. The world around us is changing fast, customer needs and expectations too are changing at an accelerated pace. Any business leader adapting the IKEA mentality is placing a death sentence on their business.

If a business leader wishes to grow their business by keeping relevant, then they cannot get trapped in the IKEA syndrome. 

I offer the following suggestions to avoiding the IKEA syndrome. However, the journey must begin with a genuine desire to be the very best by learning and improving:

  • Learn about your industry by attending conference and events.
  • Read magazines and articles pertaining to your business.
  • Talk to others in your industry who may be doing things differently.
  • Be around positive, forward thinking people.
  • Read good books that make you a better person ( at least 10 pages per day).
  • Be open-minded to new technology.
  • Speak to and even hire young people that understand and use technology without any inhibitions.
  • Embrace change with open arms.
  • Leave your past on the curb.
  • Have faith in yourself.
  • The moment you become willing to embrace change, the support of the entire universe will be with you.

I welcome your thoughts.


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Harish Babla, Managing Director of Franchise Mind Corporation based in San Diego, USA.

Harish is a successful entrepreneur, a business visionary, an inspiring franchise leader, a mentor to many companies and a growth strategist who has honed his franchise skills in various capacities since 1983. Harish is passionate about growing franchise companies and helping others achieve their dreams of building successful global franchise companies by ensuring the highest standards of franchise excellence with a strong focus on growth and operating results.

Harish is a Certified Franchise Executive as designated by the International Franchise Association and conducts learning events and mentoring for numerous companies all over the world.

Harish can be reached at harish@franchisemind.com.


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