Want to Think Outside Your Box? Get Inside Someone Else’s

Posted 02.19.2010

Doginbox This has been a perspective stretching week for a number of my clients and me. Earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to sit in on a briefing between a client organization and a strategic partner they use for innovation inspiration. The two organizations really couldn’t be much more different. One is large, the other is small. One is pretty conservative, the other is pretty far out there. One goes deep in a particular discipline, the other goes wide on a lot of disciplines.  On the surface, the two groups might remind you of The Odd Couple, Felix and Oscar. When you look at their results though, they come up with some pretty cool stuff from partnering together.

Later in the week I led a session on Tools for Next Level Leaders for federal government executives. As I often do in that session, I introduced a couple of basic coaching models and asked the participants to coach each other using those models. Most everyone got some great ideas for action steps out of eight minute coaching sessions using one of the models I shared with them. As a professional coach, I sort of take those models for granted. For most of the executives in the session, it was brand new and perspective shifting.

On the way home from that session I heard an interview on NPR with a shipping company efficiency expert named Matt LeBlanc. His job is to help his company figure out how to make and save more money through process improvement. He’s a pretty entertaining guy and the interview is worth a listen. I’ll admit that I’m not a naturally gifted process person. I tend to run in the other direction actually when someone brings up process. In listening to Matt, though, I realized that my aversion to thinking through process is really based on a lack of knowledge and perspective on my part.

The ah-ha for me was when LeBlanc told the interviewer that when he walks into a shipping facility he’s observing it through the lens of an acronym called Tim T. Wood (transportation, inventory, motion, talent, waste, overproduction, over processing, defects). Now I know what all of the Six Sigma experts reading this are thinking right now – “That was your big ah-ha?!?”  Well, yes, actually it was. I felt like LeBlanc was sharing some of his secret sauce with me and could see how that might help me in the same way that the executives in my workshop saw how the coaching model I shared could help them.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. The executives at the client company I mentioned like to joke that no matter what problem they’re presented with, their solution is going to include some version of their core discipline. They get bonus points for self awareness. Because they’re aware enough to recognize their blind spot, they seek help and ideas from a group that approaches problems in completely different ways. They get out of their box by getting into someone else’s box.

What problems are you working on that could benefit from a different perspective?  Who could you partner with that operates in a completely different kind of box?

What are some of your favorite ways to (as Steve Jobs might say) think different?