Tag Archives: business

mcwrongs

Here’s an industry secret worth billions. Consultants like to use the term “best practice” to describe what the rest of us would call a precedent—just a method that has worked, before, somewhere else.

This isn’t to say best practices are useless. Precedence is great when you understand the challenge you’re facing and want to repeat a solution—say, when you want to select brakes for a train (or brakes for anything, really) or when choosing an open heart surgeon. But if you’re trying to outpace competition, solve a long-term problem that doesn’t seem to go away, or tackle a challenge you’ve never seen before…applying precedent is not so helpful. Precedence is not disruption, and is not meant to be.

But too often, consultants dress up plain precedence and offer it as an ingenious driver of organizational change—a glaringly obvious contradiction. Most of the time, there’s nothing better about a “best” practice, and you could say that consultants have found a clever way of selling old rope for new prices.

The truth is, these precedents don’t offer the potential for ingenious ideas. They only replicate the past.  So, if you want to unlock new ideas—stop thinking right, and start thinking wrong.

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shelThis post is courtesy of Future collaborator Adam Butler.

Shel Silverstein was definitely a natural wrong thinker. He was never one to play things politically correct. Hell, he wrote the Johnny Cash hit “A Boy Named Sue”.

If you grew up in the 70s, you likely grew up with his poems. They are infused with an utter lack of appreciation for the status quo and plenty of sardonic truth about human nature—a timeless combo. I read them to my sons now.

We all laugh a lot at the absurdity of his situations and his spunky images. But sometimes my mind drifts, and I end up chasing the depth of Shel’s words. And just when I arrive at the understanding my boys yell “Read another one!”

This poem by Shel is for you.

shelsilverstein

Goodness, innovation, and creativity always lie off the beaten path, so start there. Anything can be—if you are willing to Be Bold.

Ingenuity begins where the sidewalk ends.

pantsThis post is courtesy of Future collaborator Mike Burn.

When was the last time you thought about how to put on your pants?

Chances are, it wasn’t recently. Once you got through the comedic phase of childhood where you ate facefuls of carpet while learning the one-foot-per-pant-leg rule, you probably stopped having to think about the challenges of clothing yourself. Your grown-up brain takes care of it for you, using hardened synaptic pathways developed over a lifetime of Levi-wearing to guide your legs gracefully into your garments.

Like most adults, I have dressed myself without a thought for the last 38 years or so. And then, 2 weeks ago I underwent a major surgery. Turns out my procedure has resulted in more than a pile of insurance paperwork—it’s also caused serious upheaval for my synaptic pants pathways.

Thinking about how to put on pants is now something I spend an inordinate amount of time doing. Which leg goes on first is a vital question (answer: the bad one). Putting on underwear and trousers at the same time halves the overall effort—and elasticated waistbands, though not suave, are a must. Finding a material that slides on easily helps too. In fact, I’ve been discovering a need to reroute my synaptic responses to many basic tasks that I previously took for granted. Stairs look like honey badger infested mountains, high shelves may as well be the moon, and sitting on the floor is Hades’ underworld. But the challenges aren’t daunting–instead, they excite me.

Facing my physical limitation has brought forth a wellspring of ingenious ideas. My former solutions are painful or physically impossible, and so my dormant ingenuity reignites—the ability to invent and create is there, allowing me to jump the ingenuity gap to reach the new practical solutions I need to overcome daily challenges using what I have. The thought of re-coding my brain to be able to do something today that I couldn’t do yesterday gives me a reason to get up in the morning, not a reason to stay in bed. What’s more, the humble challenge of how to put on pants is no different from the sort of problem-solving we sometimes need in the office.

Work can be like putting on pants—you just don’t think about it anymore, and your brain takes care of it for you leaving no need (or room) to rethink. But sometimes that humdrum needs to be broken. You may be under-serving customers, falling behind competing challengers, or you may face obvious inefficiency, economic difficulties, low staff morale, or even personally find yourself in a rut. But short of getting fired or reassigned, there’s often no work equivalent of having your pelvis sliced in three to kickstart a new ingenious solution.

That’s what the Blitz Cycle is for. The six rapid ingenuity practices enable you to fire up the same parts of the brain that respond when your body needs you to find a new way to get dressed. Future Blitz helps you break the cycle of precedent to start a new cycle of learning and positive change—all without breaking any bones.  Once you start creating ingenious solutions, you won’t want to stop; it will become the reason to go to work—and isn’t that how it should always have been?

toxicThe problem-solving orthodoxies they teach you in business school kill ingenuity.

Greg Galle explains why at TEDxGrandRapids.

zooThis post is courtesy of Future collaborator, Adam Butler

Choose one—would you rather have a defined and secure territory, safety from predators, and scheduled meals; or would you prefer an evolving and uncertain territory, being a part of a dynamic food chain and always needing to be on the hunt for your own food? If you chose the first scenario you identify more with zoo animals, and if you chose the second you identify more with wild animals. And this obviously speaks to where you end up living – in a zoo or in the wild.

After running my own business for ten years after having worked for others for 7 years, I feel like I went from something quite like a zoo to something much more like the wild. In fact my brother Marty and I, the co-founder of The Butler Bros, really connected deeply with this analogy when we uncovered it.

It made me recall this passage from the “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel:

“One might even argue that if an animal could choose with intelligence, it would opt for living in a zoo, since the major difference between a zoo and the wild is the absence of parasites and enemies and the abundance of food in the first, and their respective abundance and scarcity in the second. Think about it yourself. Would you rather be put up at the Ritz with free room service and unlimited access to a doctor or be homeless without a soul to care for you?”

Comfort is in fact what’s at play here. And when you get overly comfortable, you get a bit numb to yourself. When you expect a carcass to come flying over the fence you lose some of your hunting instincts. When you know your territory is 100% secure you sleep a little deeper but somehow fail to dream. Add all of this up and it translates to a dimming of your senses and a suppression of your wild, instinctual, self. Your ingenious self.

This isn’t a referendum on being an employee versus an employer or entrepreneur. It’s more of a meta-observation about what happens when you never leave your zoo. Or never let your people leave the zoo you’ve built for them, whichever the case may be.

It’s also not an indictment of where you choose to ‘live’. Because getting out of the zoo is literally as simple as walking out the door with the intention of being open to what you see outside.

In Future Blitzes getting out is a practice that comes with tools. Chief among them is 10X10X10. You go to ten places, meet ten new people, and bring back ten stories. This is a recipe for comparatively wild animal behavior. The senses will indeed bristle. And then you’ll step through the threshold of your proverbial cage to discover inspiration in places you never knew existed. You will bring it all back and share this fresh sustenance with others. It will feed them too. They will grow stronger from it. And you might howl together. Seriously. Get out of your zoo and go wild.

“Cubicles” © 2013 CC BY-NC-ND Michael Lokner

greenwatchThis post is courtesy of Future collaborator, Mike Burn

Why fit in when you were born to stand out?―Dr. Seuss

“Your glasses are too funky, your shirts are too loud and your watch is too green. If you want to succeed here you should try ‘mirroring’ the executives, you’ll be a VP in a year.”

This sage, enlightening, and simultaneously horrific statement was given to me once as well-meaning career advice. My advisor even got more specific, suggesting I go to Brooks Brothers and spend $300 at the sale rack. The most tragic aspect of this advice? It was absolutely spot on.

Obviously I didn’t go off and do it; it sounded more like part of a sick and twisted sociological experiment than career advice.

But what is so threatening about a green watch?

I am genuinely amazed by the number of people who comment on my watch—it’s started many a conversation. The comments fall into three categories:

• observational – “You have a green watch.”
• contemptuous – “You have a green watch?”
• aspirational – “You can have a green watch!”

I’m not raising the stereotyping associated with this watchism to a level of hateful prejudice here—but it does seem to be an effective technique for identifying close mindedness. Stereotyping and closed mindedness being symptoms of groupthink, and its associated desire for conformity. The next stage of this cycle is self-censorship, with the peer pressure asserted against deviant watch-wearing behavior bringing about the switch to a more consensus-driven timepiece. A tried-and-true, gold, with a brown leather strap edition perhaps?

Once the pattern of morality, peer pressure and group belief in what is right and appropriate is in place, the status quo and uniformity get continually reinforced. The guards are in place to prevent both outside and internal dissent.

The drift towards homogeneity starts. The watch, the blue shirt, the pleated khakis and the shiny slip-on shoes with brass ended tassels, then the Brooks Brothers sales rack, and the mirroring, and the promotion, the title, the success. And once you’ve made it, don’t rock the boat, don’t speak out, don’t stand up, just go along to get along, we all agree, we’re all on the same page, we know how to do this, everything is just fine as it is—and don’t let the crazy dude with the green watch in.

Of course, this is not just about watches—this is about ideas and thinking wrong. And incidentally…the green watch at the top of this post belongs to another Future collaborator, Marty Butler. Coincidence?

Future is on the lookout for places where green watches are challenging the status quo. Green watch = thinking wrong. Check it out here.

underwear

Innovationmania obsesses over the next new thing—products, services, business models and processes—not people. But people are where ingenious, market creating, top-line growing, bottom-line shrinking, daunting-challenge overcoming solutions come from.

When Yvon Chouinard directed his team at Patagonia to eliminate the plastic their underwear was sold in, he didn’t ask for packaging innovations. He didn’t need to. His seemingly impossible challenge required them to rethink their assumptions about how customers bought underwear, how customers used it, and how they discovered it in stores.

As a result, Patagonia didn’t invent a new packaging material—which would have meant significant research, development, and production costs for the business. Instead, Chouinard’s team came up with a practical answer that eliminated 12 tons of landfill choking materials, drove costs down by hundreds of thousands of dollars—and raised underwear sales at Patagonia by 30%. What was their ingenious solution? The rubber band.

patagonia_rubberband

This solution not only resonated with Patagonia’s deep environmental roots, but also gave customers the chance to handle the underwear and discover its quality.

What does Chouinard get that other CEOs don’t? He believes that with every paycheck, he is renting his people’s ingenuity. So he’s built a company where he not only encourages every employee to come up with ingenious solutions—he expects them to. In return, he benefits from everyone’s ability to solve business and environmental challenges with what’s at hand—in clever, new, and useful ways.