How To Reject The Premise And Become A Strategic, Future-Oriented Thinker

In order to change the world, you have to reject the premise. Here’s how Category Designers reject the way it is to create the way it will be.

Every legendary business started as a dumb idea, until it wasn’t.

In order to change the world, you have to reject the premise. You can’t just blindly accept the world the way it is. And it’s in your best interest to begin thinking about a new and different future as soon as possible.

Here’s how to reject the way it is to create the way it will be.

Rejecting the premise means rejecting “what has been true” about the past.

Thinking about “the past” is deeply rooted in the DNA of many entrepreneurs, investors, executives, academics, and strategists.

  • Harvard Business School students read ~500 case studies (about the past) during their two years of study.
  • Most management consulting firms give a detailed analysis of what worked yesterday. They explain the past.
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins is all about comparing similar companies (from the past).
  • Academics can’t publish without extensive research about the past. And any new information has to be rigorously peer-reviewed by other professors who are experts in the past.

None of these are accurate (or effective) definitions of truly strategic thinking.

The core issue is that 100% of what we’ve been taught is based on the past and doesn’t reflect a future where many things might change. Every generation looks and laughs at prior generations and wonders, “How did those prior generations believe that? Look at what we didn’t know!”

Well, why would we assume future generations wouldn’t look at us the same way?

Rejecting the premise lets you create a different future.

No legendary entrepreneur, inventor, business leader, creator, or artist started their journey by accepting the premise.

  • Why did hotels sue Airbnb, calling them “illegal hotels”? Because Airbnb’s POV changed the premise.
  • How did Picasso become one of the most well-known and highly-valued artists of all time? Because he “quit” the game of Impressionism and “created” a new game called Cubism.
  • What made Cirque du Soleil a billion-dollar business with more than 4,000 employees performing shows in over 40 countries? Co-founders Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix were on a mission to create performative, acrobatic, animal-free theatre, NOT start a better circus.

The vast majority of people take whatever is placed in front of them and say, “I accept the premise.”

They start with the way it is, and aim to make the way it is “better” or “incrementally different.” Something exists. Then this new thing came along. And we’re going to apply the new thing to the old thing, and call the old thing new. There is very little questioning about whether they are having the right conversation (context) to begin with. As a result, a company’s (or creator’s) POV is unconsciously established, and every product, document, and decision that unfolds from there follows that POV — resulting in a lifetime of comparison.

But if history has taught us anything, it’s that exponential outcomes are produced by strategic, future-oriented thinkers who never fall into The Better Trap.

Rejecting the premise is the art of the possible.

It’s the process of considering “what could be true.”

  • What new mental model would have to be invented for this to work?
  • What if people moved from the way it is, to a new different way?
  • What if a new outcome (an outcome we haven’t considered before) was possible?

In 2008, the idea of Airbnb made no sense when evaluated through old mental models.

As a result, nearly every venture capitalist said, “No way. You can’t rent out your extra bedroom. That’s insane. Probably illegal. What if someone gets killed in their sleep, or raped? And you really think people are going to want to share a toilet with someone they’ve never met before?”

Only a very small handful of investors (including the world-class firm, Sequoia Capital) had the courage and mental awareness to ask a different question — a “thinking” question:

“What would need to be true for this idea to work?”

They realized that the idea of Airbnb didn’t make sense when evaluated through previously established mental models, but it did make sense through the lens of a new model. In fact, it was likely a decade away from being completely acceptable — and thus, “worth the risk” (which helped Sequoia turn roughly $280 million invested over multiple rounds into more than $12 billion).

Every legendary business is a dumb idea — until it isn’t.

Instead of accepting the premise, we encourage you to ask a series of more thoughtful questions:

  • What new and different future can you invest in that would fundamentally change the trajectory of your category and business?
  • Is this a mission worthy of your potential?
  • Does it matter enough to you to spend 20 years doing it?
  • What’s the real outcome you want to drive?
  • How will that outcome make the world a different place?
  • Do you want to capture existing demand or create net-new demand?

Companies, entrepreneurs, and investors who reject the premise, proactively facilitate unconstrained creative discussions about the future, and are willing to strategize and build what doesn’t exist yet are the ones who escape the rat race of competition and enter the promised land of creation.

Once you’ve glimpsed the future, you then need to plant your flag and tell people how it will be different with a unique Point Of View.