Category Archives: Innovation

Outside Looking In

The closer you get to something, the harder it is to clearly see it. Likewise, the further you get from something, the harder it is to clearly see it.

Try it with your computer screen to make this simple point come to life. Put your face about an inch from the screen. Is it as easy to read as it is when you’re sitting back at the chair at your desk? Of course not. You lose focus, and the white light actually hurts your eyes. If you do it for too long, you’ll get a headache.

Now, get up, and walk to the opposite side of the room from the screen. Can you read it? Of course not, and the further away you get, the more the page and words mush together into a sea of gray.

When you’re really into a project, be it work, family or whatever, you’re going to get so close to it, so hands-on, that your clarity on the situation is going to be obstructed. Stay there too long and it really affects your performance.

The analogy sparks two reactions for gaining perspective when you’re knee deep into a project:

  1. Take a step back. It’s rare in today’s business world for the strategically gifted to spend most of their time on producing strategies. Most of us, even at the senior level, are expected to produce the strategies AND oversee the execution. This is how you get too close to a situation, and why you must force yourself to take a step back.

    Plan for regular check-ups on your projects that answer these questions: a) What can be done to improve the execution of this project? b) Is the work I’m doing producing the results needed as defined by the original strategy? c) Is the original strategy still relevant, or has something happened that calls for a new strategy? d) If I keep doing what I’m doing, am I going to be pleased with the results?Keep these moments pretty regular and disciplined. Schedule them in Outlook. Write the questions out and fill in the answers. Most importantly, do something with your answers.

  2. Get someone else to step in. Ultimately, being as close as you are to a situation will form certain biases and opinions that you can’t shake regardless of what steps you take. That’s why you need someone to step in and help clarify things with a fresh perspective. These are the consultants and counselors that have expertise in what you’re doing and can give qualified feedback in a relatively short amount of time. These are also mentors and colleagues that you can depend on to shoot straight with you. This is not always friends and family, as they might hold much needed info back because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

    These folks are the ones at the opposite end of the room who only see gray when they look at your screen. They need you to invite them to come sit down at your desk, take a look, get a little history from you and then be left alone for a little while so they can muster up their take on things. Their fresh take on things.

    The key here is not so much what they give you, but how you receive what they give. You must be convinced that you need a fresh perspective and that it’s very possible, even probable, that you could be doing some things better.

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Progress vs. Inertia

Does a day go by at your office that you’re not reminded of the system, or process, or procedure, or protocol? Yes, they’re all important, but they also have one thing in common:

Their very nature is to create ruts and habits.

Say what you will, but ruts and habits don’t often produce new ideas. Tom says it much more eloquently in his post than I can. Especially these quotes:

 “The reason men oppose progress is not that they hate progress, but that they love inertia.” – Elbert Hubbard

“My point is simply this: the main enemy of ideas is not fear of change, but love of the way things are right now. Discomfort be damned.”