Here’s some expert advice on how to think out of the box

  • Roger Martin, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • |
  • Updated: Feb 13, 2013 01:32 IST

Think out-of-the-box: Don’t restrict yourself to occupational tasks. Strive for a holistic development

Whether we know it or not, we are kept inside our current box by the logic that underpins the status quo. That particular logic causes us to think that the status quo - or something close to it - is the smartest thing. So to get out-of-the-box, we need to surface and explore our current logic.

Here’s how you can do it

* Start by reverse-engineering the status quo - ask what would have to be true about our industry, our customers, our capabilities, our cost structure, our competitors, for the status quo to be a great idea? For example, for our strategy of customising the product to the desire of each customer, we would have to believe that customers really value customisation.

* Then play with those elements that would have to be true and ask what if each wasn’t actually true; what if something else was? For example, assume for the moment that they would absolutely adore a completely standardised product instead.

* Then ask what strategy built around standardising our product might make sense. The key is to utterly suspend belief about the current logic and do so in a systematic way. Keep doing this exercise for each element of the logic that underpins the status quo. What if the industry was about to start contracting, rather than growing for the next decade as our current strategy assumes? What if our cost structure is the highest in the industry not the lowest as our current strategy assumes? You will come up with a series of out-of-the-box ideas - at least one of which will be interesting enough to prototype and test with customers.

Roger Martin is dean of the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management. His research areas include integrative thinking and country competitiveness. Businessweek magazine called him (and six others) an Innovation Guru in 2005. Martin was sixth on the Thinkers50 list, a ranking of global management thinkers, in 2011


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