Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26, 2009



Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on.........."


I surf the net a lot. A lot of it is just aimless wandering, going from one link to another, sometimes just to see where it will lead me. I came across a column by a business consultant and author – Naomi Karten – about "thinking inside the box."

Her thesis was that: “The problem with urging outside-the-box thinking is that many of us do a less-than-stellar job of thinking inside the box. We often fail to realize the options and opportunities that are blatantly visible inside the box that could dramatically improve our chances of success. Thinking outside of the box can generate innovative and ingenious ideas and outcomes, but the results will flop when teammates ignore the ideas inside the box.”

The column listed some ideas that came out of a workplace exercise that were all inside the box skills:

1. Listen to each other's suggestions.
2. Don't be so quick to dismiss each other's ideas.
3. Challenge assumptions.
4. Create team norms that improve working together.
5. Build a relationship with the customer before building the product.
6. Consider the customer's perspective when asking questions.
7. Spend more time talking with the customer—and listening.
8. Spend more time planning before starting to build.
9. Ask more questions about what's expected.
10. Ask better questions about what's expected.
11. Draw from each other's strengths.
12. Collaborate with other teams and learn from each other.
13. Consider what we've learned in other similar projects.
14. Consider what we've learned in other projects unlike this one.
15. Relate this problem to other problems team members have had experience with.
16. Have a team member observe how the team is doing and give feedback.
17. Seek advice from others who have already undertaken similar projects.
18. Stop periodically and assess how the team is doing.

"Great ideas—and not a single one required venturing outside the box." Ms. Karten concluded: “Our challenge is to look around from our perch inside the box and ask, "What options and opportunities are right here for the taking?"

I wonder if, in our zeal to think outside-the-box, to be creative in our responses to our problems, we aren’t straying too far from the most basic of business precepts and in so doing moving farther away from solutions to those challenges we face. Admittedly, we face unique business situations that are different from traditional for-profit circumstances, but in the final analysis we have more in common with small businesses than we differ. Should we take a step back to basics as it were, and take a fresh look at our most pressing business problems to see what responses and solutions standard business applications have historically applied in the past – if only in the ways we attempt to address those issues? Could we at least improve our out-of-the-box thinking by adopting some of the traditional business protocols in moving towards being more creative?

Are our organizations doing all they could to improve how they work as teams? Are we methodical enough in our approach to analyzing what has gone wrong and what we might do about it? Do we systematically build on our lessons learned or do we keep mindlessly repeating the same mistakes over and over. Are we challenging our assumptions on a regular basis or are we clinging to old, and perhaps, worn out and tired beliefs about ourselves and our audiences? Do we really listen to our customer bases and consciously work at building a relationship with them, or do we continue to make assumptions about them that serve our own pre-conceptions about who they are, how they act, and what they want? These are, I think, good questions to stop and ask ourselves every once in awhile.

It is arguable that we never spent enough time in the box in the first place; that we never honed our basic business skills, never kept pace with the for-profit business world in terms of efficiency and productivity, and never really spent enough time and energy (and still don't) learning how to become better managers. Many have observed that we still don't do that good a job at training our leaders in all the business skills necessary to compete in today's marketplace - from entreprenurialship to being good public policy advocates; that we have only a surface level understanding of managing from inside-the-box, that we have far too little training (initial or on-going) in basic business skills, and that we have no mechanism to provide systemic opportunities for our leadership to become better trained.

There are increasing clarion calls for us to provide more business training to both our emerging and existing leadership -- on-going training. Some organizations have small budget line items to allow for continuing education and training - but most do not. And the amount we spend on continuing to train our people pales in comparison to the private sector. And that lack of training is harming us. There may just be some advantages to going back in-the-box – perhaps for many of us for the first time -- if only for awhile.

Have a good week.

Don’t Quit

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