Start by asking a different question
The thought experiment goes like this: imagine a hypothetical factory that is subdivided into areas of specialty. Each area has its own boss, and they, in turn, are watched over by a foreman from above. The chief executive of this hypothetical factory is a dedicated man with a performance orientation, arriving early and leaving late every day, and personally making all of the important decisions in between…
Ricardo Semler, the CEO of a highly-creative company called Semco in Brazil, likes to pain this picture when he addresses audiences. And they find nothing strange about this – it’s a typical pyramid-shaped business with hierarchical structures of authority. That is, until Semler reveals that he is describing an actual English textile factory that existed a long time ago. In 1633, to be precise.
Why, he rightly asks, given the advent of computer technology, automated machinery, rapid new product development and efficient global communication, do we still work this way? That’s how we worked before there were complete maps of planet earth!
Inherited thought is invisible
The answer is: Because the thinking that gets handed down to us becomes invisible to us. It is an extremely human behavioural pattern to do things the way they’ve always been done, on the merit that they have always been done that way. Over time, the goals may change. But the behaviours that informed the original goals remain, adding the burden of senseless labour and the cost of time to our processes.
Studies are increasingly showing that disruptive innovation almost always comes from outside of an industry, and rarely from within. That’s because individuals who did not inherit ‘the way things have always been done’ can often see more clearly, unburdened by precedent.
So how can you buck this trend? How could you disrupt your own industry from within?
In ‘They’re Your Rules, Break Them!’ I suggest asking a different question. Here’s the psychology. If you pre-load a scenario with an alternative question, you will cause yourself to see it differently. By way of a simple example, if you go into a sales scenario consciously asking yourself the question: ‘What’s interesting about each participant’s body language in this meeting?’ you might then notice specific information that you may not have registered otherwise.
Perhaps the strongest question to ask, in order to intentionally disrupt your own business, and your own industry, is: ‘What’s awful about us?’
By wilfully seeking out soft-spots, sore-points, bones of contention and customer complaints, you pour into your mill the gristle necessary for serious innovation.
Track your customers’ experience. Begin before they even encounter you. What do they have to do? What must they go through? And what’s awful, ugly or inefficient about it? Innovate there. You just may change things in ways that your competitors never considered.
Douglas Kruger specialises in dismantling needless rules. A business coach and author of 6 books with Penguin Random House, including ‘They’re Your Rules, Break Them!’, he speaks locally and internationally on the topic of disruptive innovation and how to reduce your own rules in order to achieve it. Douglas is also a multiple award-winning speaker, who was inducted into the ‘Speakers Hall of Fame’ in 2016. See him in action at www.douglaskruger.com.
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