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Don’t Just Think Outside the Box…Jump Out of It!

April 16, 2012

By Laurie Clarke, COO, The Tatham Group

Every entrepreneur knows there are costs and benefits to starting their own business.  As a company of one there is a lot of stress and more work to do than time to do it.  There is also the ability to make quick decisions, maintain a personal relationship with every customer and be flexible to quickly change what and how you do things.  Add a second person and the benefits are harder to maintain.  Add a few hundred, thousand, tens of thousands and leaders start to feel like their job is more about managing the chaos and less about leading the business.

Organizations today fall prey to the sheer size and scale of the entity.  It’s a well oiled machine that is almost impossible to stop.  And yet, many leaders still encourage their employees to ‘think outside the box’, do things differently, innovate and get creative.  Even in the most dynamic environments this can be difficult to do as organizational structures are, by definition, setup to box in the current way of operating.

So how do you do things differently?  How can employees think outside of the box they are so nicely put, and being managed, in?  What can you do to design and execute operational innovations?  One of the best ways we have found is to create, what we call, a business-within-a business.  How do we do that?

1. Create a team of people who do real work for customers every day.  Who do you choose?  Easy.  Make a list of the people you ‘can’t live without.’  Throw in an unlikely candidate – someone who thinks differently from the group and asks all those annoying questions you love to hate.   Add a technology guru and you are all set.

2. Remove the team from the hum drum of day-to-day activities.  Take them out of their jobs functionally and physically.  A large room with all the technology requirements to do their work but no work to be done.

3. Supply them with our team guide to business innovation 🙂

4. Experiment freely, failing often, in order to build a new business.  What if you could remove the organizational boundaries of today?  If you only had one customer?  What would you do? How would you provide this product or service?  What else can you do?  Are there new potential customers?  How best should the organization be structured to meet these needs?  What role can technology play?  Does it exist today?  Can we build it? Don’t theorize.  Do it.  With real customers.

5. Take your new business and prototype it with a small group of people within the ‘old’ business.  Fail.  Learn.  Experiment.  Repeat to success.

6. Implement for the whole organization.  Or in other words, define the boundaries of their new box.

7. Repeat steps 1 through 6 in order to stay relevant in today’s business world.

In order to make this work leaders need to be comfortable with the unknown.  You must give up control,  be patient and, most importantly, be prepared to make magic happen when the team needs you to fund and resource building the new box.