Sometimes its good to be inside the box…

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Although there are times when thinking “outside the box” can truly help teams innovate, it can become such a repetitious process that you actually end up with the same ideas and initiatives over and over again.

Sometimes, the trouble with “blue sky” thinking, is that some people have a hard time envisioning “what ifs” without some form of guidelines.  To that, I read a great article on 99u the other day that really can help shake things up. 

Instead of concentrating on “out of the box” thinking – come up with some interesting constraints for your team.  Don’t give them a blank slate.  Confuse them with “customer requirements” that really forces them to get into the problem.  For example:

  • Instead Of:   “How can we reduce our lead time?”
    Try:                “What if a customer wants us to get them their order today before 10am?
     
    The obvious answer will be “I guess we would drive it over” – but more importantly, how will the order get expedited?  How will it affect today’s production?  How can we improve the expedite of this order?  Force them to walk the whole process through the 10am delivery and see what systems or processes can be updated – even if 10am is not viable, the ideas you generate could easily aide in reducing your overall lead time.
     
  • Instead Of:   “How can I get you to make more sales calls this year?”
    Try:                “What if this year your customers only want to meet with you in the mornings – how can you structure your day to accommodate them?”
     
    Sales guys try to space out their day.  It makes them feel (and look) busy.  To get them more focused on being productive, see if you can help them come up with a 1/2 day plan to help structure their days better.  How can they utilize a geographic map to better plan routes instead of zig-zag driving?  How can they optomize their calendar to get multiple visits in the same areas done in succession?  Can they get started with a customer right at 8am? What about 7am?  Can they sit down in the afternoon and write 5 or 6 quotes in a row?  Walk them through a week, and see how you might be able to better challenge your sales team to be more productive by batching similar work together. 

By building some arbitrary walls around the problem, you add some confusion to the problem, and really make someone scramble to come up with something more than the normal set of ideas.