Self Limiting Beliefs


Let’s start with a parable from the priest and therapist Anthony de Mello…


One day a man found an eagle’s egg. He put it in the nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chickens and grew up with them.


All his life the eagle did what the other barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken.


He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. He would thrash his wings and fly a few feet in the air.


Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided gracefully in the wind with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.


The old eagle looked up in awe. “Who’s that?” he asked.


“That’s the eagle, the king of birds,” said his neighbour.


“He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth – we’re chickens.”


So, the eagle lived and died a chicken. For that’s who he thought he was.


This is a parable about the stories we tell ourselves. How our beliefs often place a limit on what we do and, importantly, what we think we can do.


Why are we talking about this? In our industry there are a lot of beliefs about what you can and can’t do.


They might be beliefs about what you sell – e.g. we make biscuits, so biscuits are what we sell. They might be beliefs about where you sell – e.g. we are a premium brand, so we can’t sell in discounters. They might be beliefs about how you sell – e.g. we need to be on deal X times a year at Y discount.


These beliefs are fine until…


You see someone who looks like you doing different things.


The biscuit maker that starts making other snacks. The premium brand that successfully sells through discounters. The new entrant who breaks the promotional rules.


They show that you could be flying like an eagle.


So what are some of the beliefs that might be keeping you on the ground?


The category you are in. If you think you sell beer you will carry on selling beer. It limits. But if you think you sell adult drinks you can go well beyond beer. It expands. Coca Cola is a good example of a company that is focused on selling drinks not just carbonated soft drinks.


The occasions you target. If you think the only occasion you serve is breakfast, you will carry on focusing on breakfast. It limits. But if you think you can serve occasions across the day, you can go well beyond breakfast. It expands. Nutella is a good example of a brand playing to occasions across the day.


The role your product plays. If you are a cooking sauce and think you play a supporting role (e.g. protein is the hero) you will carry on acting like the support. It limits. But if you think you can play a lead role (e.g. sauce is the hero, protein is the sidekick) you will start acting like the lead. It expands. Fever Tree is a classic example of taking a product from a support role to a lead role.


The price point you can achieve. If you think you will never be able to sell above £x in your category, then you will carry on developing products to be sold below £x. It limits. But if you think that current pricing doesn’t need to reflect future pricing, then you will start developing products that can be sold above £x. It expands. Coffee is a great example of a category that has smashed price barriers – in home (40p+ per cup of Nespresso) and out of home (£3+ for a Starbucks).


The promotions you can run. If you think that you can only get feature space if you run a deep discount, you will carry on running deep discounts. It limits. But if you think you can get feature space by giving shoppers a different incentive to buy, then you can look beyond deep discounts. It expands. ‘Health’ could be an incentive (think HFSS compliant). ‘New’ could be an incentive (think Sainsbury’s Discover Zones). ‘Different’ could be an incentive (think Plant Based).


The way you are merchandised. If you are in the tea category and think you sell bags in boxes you will keep selling bags in boxes. It limits. But if you think… we could do away with the box … we don’t have to sell in multiples of ten … we could let shoppers mix and match. It expands. The future of many categories may be packaging-free, pick & mix style merchandising. Better for shoppers. Better for the planet.


These are a few examples of perceived limits. You will probably have others in your business.


Some of them will be valid. However, some will just be stories that you tell yourselves.


Don’t live like a chicken when you could be flying like an eagle.


Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.