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What If There Wasn’t a Box?

Published July 25, 2017

Typically as leaders we are challenged to think “outside the box” and that’s not bad advice. Certainly confining yourself to limits that many times are imposed on us is difficult. However, more often than we’d like to admit, we suffer from limits we put on ourselves when it comes to accomplishing what we are trying to do. We put blinders on and dig in and just push as hard as we can to try and move the ball down the field, even when there are clear indicators that tell us we should change course, readjust our scope, and try another approach.

But what if we could do it differently? What if we didn’t believe the story that others told us about what we have to do to be successful? What if we believed the story we told ourselves? What if we created our own future without the constraints of the “box” that conventional wisdom tries to put us in? What if we had the guts to do what we knew needed to be done regardless of what the voices in the box say?

I think back to the story told about the late Intel leaderĀ Andy Grove. Faced with declining profits, plummeting from $198 million in 1984 to $2 million dollars in 1985, Andy and his team had a problem. It’s then with the strength and muster of a true leader that he looked at CEO Gordon Moore and said, ‘If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?’ Moore said without hesitation, ‘He would get us out of memories.’ In a moment of legendary brilliance Andy Grove then said, ‘Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back, and do it ourselves?’ And they did, which after some painful moments, the company went on a remarkable 10-year run. The point here is that conventional thinking would have had them continuing to make memory chips that they had no intention of selling, and that’s wasn’t going to end well for anyone.

In short, Andy Grove threw away the box and did what needed to be done. As leaders we have the same ability to not only think outside the box, but think without a box that confines us with legacy, conventional wisdom, and a risk averse mindset. In this day and age of rapid change we have to be nimble, and one way to stay ahead of the challenges we’re facing is to be open to new ideas and innovation.

We need to look at operational planning as a blank canvas. But every year most every organization builds their strategic plan using fact-based data, models that show trends, and a forecast based on historical information with current trends factored in. While that is a sound practice to be sure, I wonder how many times we as leaders hamstring ourselves with an operational plan done the way we’ve always done it? What idea is burning inside of our souls that we want to try but are afraid to because it’s not the way we’ve always done it, or the way our boss did it? What is that next-generation idea that might change the world, or change your company forever if only you would throw away the box, versus just thinking outside of it?

What if we built our strategic plan from scratch and addressed the issues the way we know we need to, and not just in the way the models show we should, or ought to? What if we asked ourselves what looking at the plan from scratch would make possible? How empowering and freeing would that be for us as leaders? How would our teams benefit from this refreshing approach?
Let’s take a shot of getting rid of the box that limits our thinking and holds us back from accomplishing all that we can.