There is a tension between being asked to “Think Outside of the Box” and the type of “strength-finding” research and recommendations of thinkers like Marcus Buckingham, Dan Pink and even Jim Collins.
We know that there are a series of Innovation stages, what we call “the i5”: identification, investigation, ideation, impact evaluation, and implementation. These stages roughly correlate with different personality or thinking preferences. When we ask someone to think outside of the box - we might very well be asking them to think “outside of their preferences” as well. In turn, Buckingham, Pink and Collins might all say that we’re setting them up for failure:
- Buckingham: “Operate according to your strengths”, i.e. stay in your box.
- Pink: “Gain mastery”, i.e. stay in your box.
- Collins: “Focus on your hedgehog”, i.e. stay in your box.
And I largely agree with them - or I would if we lived in a perfect world. If you work in a context where you can enlist a collaborative “dream team” (what Collins would call getting the right people on the bus), then each member of that team will probably be able to spend time operating from strengths, gaining mastery, doing what they do best. Who wouldn’t want that?
However many of the clients we work with don’t have that luxury. They are charged with innovation, but need to rally their existing teams to the cause, and although their teams may be wonderful, they’re not necessarily “dream” teams crafted specifically for innovation. In fact if anything they’re probably crafted for execution and efficiency. I’d argue that the biggest challenge of Innovation training is to give self-professed “normal” or “average” teams tools that will help them comfortably and effectively approach opportunities in a new way.
Einstein said that the definition of insanity is, “Doing the same thing you’ve always done, and expecting a different (innovative) result”. I’d say our challenge is helping people bridge the gap between doing what they do best, and trying something new, without losing their engagement in the process.
As Collins says in Good to Great, Great companies act like hedgehogs. I’d say in every company, and in every career, there are moments where you need to think like a fox.
Co-Founder of Juice Inc, Thought Leader & Author
Co-Founder of Juice Inc.
Vice President, Business Development
Business Development, Juice USA
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