Outside the Box or In?
“Thinking outside the box is dead.” This, according to Alan Iny, co-author of Thinking in New Boxes, a book briefly sampled in the October 7 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. We’ll return to Iny’s five-point strategy for solving issues later. For now, consider the implications of that statement: assuming that change is inevitable, the way we change and the way we think about change must, in addition, change; we must innovate innovatively.
It’s a call for standing the entire problem-solving, challenge-meeting process on its head. The first step Iny advocates is to doubt everything, to question every aspect of a challenge. A great example of a company having taken this approach is Tesla Motors, the California based automobile manufacturer that changed everything about building and selling cars.
The Tesla sports a fully electric motor, which, although different from the norm, is not unique. There are many electric vehicles out there, but none with a record of achievement or the aesthetic appeal that equals that of Tesla. This car’s origins are not to be found in Detroit, but rather in the high-tech world of California’s Silicon Valley where the vehicles are manufactured. Even investors view the company more as a high-tech venture than a carmaker. The market places a $22 billion value on the company, almost a third as much as Ford, The New York Times (October 18, 2013) points out. But Ford sold 1.29 million vehicles in the United States the first half of the year compared to Tesla’s 10,500 — the former turning a $2.8 billion profit, the latter losing $19 million.
Tesla has no dealer network. The company self-operates a chain of showrooms across the country (and abroad), selling directly to consumers. This has caused such unhappiness among dealerships in some parts of the country that they have lobbied their state legislatures — with notable success in Texas — to ban direct sales of this nature.
For all its uniqueness, Tesla is not beyond accepting — and boasting about — some very traditional awards. Its Model S won Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year and
Automobile Magazine’s 2013 Automobile of the Year Awards. The same vehicle received the highest-ever safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Consumer Reports called the Model S the best car it had ever tested.
Not everybody is prepared to depart so radically from the norm in approaching a challenge, but by doubting everything, as Iny suggests, possibilities that were not evident previously may be revealed. If your perceived problem is losing market share because of a competitor, ask if customers still want your service, ask if you’re targeting the right customers.
The second of Iny’s “new boxes” requires research: crunch the numbers from your customer database and conduct customer surveys to figure out if and why your service no longer meets customer needs. The third step is to generate ideas and brainstorm solutions to what you discovered in step two. In the fourth step a dose of reality is introduced: budget limitation, space constraints, etc. Finally, in step five, a solution is implemented and reevaluated constantly. Iny advises that you return to step one — doubting everything — as needed.
Whether these new boxes signify the demise of the thinking-outside-the-box concept is debatable. They do, however, provide a helpful problem-solving guide.