Think Outside the Building, Not Just the Box

People looking to innovate have long been admonished to think outside the box.  

It's good advice so long as one remembers that over time every fresh perspective or new way of thinking becomes a new box from which you must escape.

Harvard Business School professor and bestselling author Rosabeth Moss Kanter wants us to do more.  She suggests we need to think outside our building full of boxes, somewhat echoing Peter Drucker's concept of the "meaningful outside."  Kanter says:
"To foster innovation and transformation, leaders should focus on impact, not inputs. They should identify unsolved problems, map the wider system influencing results, and determine weak links to strengthen or gaps to fill. But to do all that effectively, they must first jump out of the box and leave the building."
Operationalizing this simple, but powerful philosophy means: 
  • looking to other industries and professions for innovations you might apply in your own work;
  • exploring partnerships and collaborations with organizations beyond your normal default options;
  • engaging in creative problem-solving with individuals from outside your organization;
  • viewing everyone who engages in work similar to yours as competition and not just those who share your same title or product line;
  • looking to unlikely sources for inspiration and insight; and
  • taking regular field trips into other environments and engaging in deep observation of what is done and how it is accomplished.
I periodically engage in my own outside the building excursion recently when I do a week of "temp work" for an association, residing and working in their headquarters for five days. 

Re-immersing myself in the daily 8-5 routine, participating in and facilitating team meetings, holding office hours and consulting with individuals, doing project work, presenting non-mandatory staff training sessions, coaching individuals on how to handle situations, and being a guest at all staff and volunteer gatherings expose me again to the routines and rituals of another organization's culture.  

I come away with dozens of observations—some tactical and some strategic—about organizational change, learning, and group dynamics. All of my future speaking and facilitation efforts are richer because of this "Consultant-in-Residence" experience.

Leaving the building by default forces us to leave our boxes.  So get up from your desk and go outside (or even online to new destinations).  The impact you need to consider and the information and insight you need might very well be there.

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