Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Think outside the box

In the world of management lingo Bingo, this phrase should count as three or four squares on your bingo card. Many individuals I've talked to point to management consultants as the originators of this phrase, but it has easily become one of the most overused commands in management circles.

That's too bad, because like many hackneyed ideas or philosophies, there's some value in there, but the phrase has been so misused and abused that it's only used tongue in cheek today.

Let's break down the phrase "Think outside the box" and see how it could apply to becoming more innovative in your organization.

First, Think. At one time the word Think was an IBM mantra. Thinking has always seemed vaguely suspicious to people in management. Most of us are paid as white collar workers because of knowledge that we have, but we are expected to apply that knowledge. Mere thinking seems unproductive. Can you measure thinking in increased units per hour? Since there is a management bias against thinking, we should probably consider how important thinking is. Where do great ideas come from? Do they come from people constantly running around putting out fires, or from people who commit the time to think about the future, the new products, new services? I think, therefore I innovate. How much time do your teams get to think - think about problems, challenges and opportunities. Most teams I work with are so constantly busy that spending time sitting still thinking seems slightly dangerous.

Next, Outside. Most of us spend so much time within our business function, our department and our office that we rarely get a different perspective. Want to know why management consultants are paid the big bucks? Not because of words like transformational but because they can parachute into any situation and provide a different perspective. They don't bring the day to day expectations and biases of your organization with them. So they can bring an "outside" perspective. Can't your team get an "outside" perspective? Can you shed the skin of the organization for just a little while and look at your processes and your products in a different way?

Next, the Box. To me, the box is the metaphor for all the cultural and managerial overhead about your business. Incremental innovations often happen as the next "turn of the screw" so to speak, and can happen within that box. Disruptive innovations often destroy the box at the same time, so most people can't see or won't see the disruptive innovation. To be truly innovative, you've got to find ways to change the culture or at least make people feel they can rethink not only the products and the processes, but the culture as well.

Go do something transformational with your operatational processes and create a new paradigm. Or just Think. Outside. The Box.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:33 AM


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