Staying Ahead: If it isn’t Broke, Break it

We can get set in our ways, comfortable with routine and not even see the opportunities around us. Too often, we wait for something to break to fix it. By doing so, we miss creating something better – with better outcomes.

Change is inevitable, no matter the organization or industry. If we keep doing things the same way and not changing, we will fall behind.

Without people living out this powerful truth, we wouldn’t have the wheel. While horses provided an adequate means for transportation, someone saw an opportunity to rethink what’s possible and improve it. Today, manufacturers continue to imagine and build different and better vehicles. Driverless cars are in our near future. What’s next?

A secret to innovation and staying ahead is this: If it isn’t broke, break it.

I regularly say this in my planning meetings with leadership teams and I usually have to say it again for it to sink it. Yes, if it isn’t broke, break it. We gravitate toward comfort and predictability. When a new idea emerges and is presented, how many times have you heard someone say, “This is the way we have always done it; so why change?”

Breaking something that is not broken feels counterintuitive. It may even feel wasteful. But it actually leads to better stewardship, creative ideas and improved results.

So how do we “break it?”  Here are some key steps and questions that I ask to help foster innovation and opportunities while facilitating planning meetings:

  • Uncover the assumptions.
    What are your base assumptions? Sometimes when you get stuck or things don’t work, we need to look at the base assumptions underlying our thinking. These base assumptions affect our perspectives and an organization’s ultimate ability to achieve its goals. They may be too rigid – or no longer accurate. Different members of the team could have different assumptions. Seek first to understand base assumptions that are driving thinking. When someone shares that it needs to be done a certain way, ask why. In a recent case, executives reframed their thinking as they asked, “Why do executives and other leaders have the large, corner offices with all the windows?” They realized they spent much less time in those offices and it made more sense to let other team members who spend almost all of their time in their workspaces to experience the natural light and views.
  • Change an assumption.
    What would be the outcomes if we changed a particular assumption? Go through a series of what if scenarios to explore new possibilities and discover any flaws in the assumptions. This is a powerful exercise.In one recent example, educators considered “What if there wasn’t a front to the classroom?” They broke tradition and reimagined a learning space that better engages students. In another case with an historic building, leaders let go of the assumption that they had to choose either preservation or modern. They found they could balance both and the result has been a “wow.”
  • Blow it up.
    What if we let go of everything and started over? Try it. Start fresh. Take something completely apart and reassemble it differently. Libraries are no longer just a quiet place or book depositories. So much research can be done online. Schools and communities are blowing up existing assumptions about libraries and turning them into vibrant, active and collaborative spaces with high tech labs where knowledge can be applied.

Innovation has long been essential to our success. Just because it works well today doesn’t mean it will work well or even be relevant tomorrow. We need to keep looking around corners and reimagining the spaces where we learn, collaborate and get our work done.

Frequently a lack of funding or other restrictive parameters can stop an entire project. Challenging base assumptions can often find a different approach where significant progress can be made.

Leaders benefit from stepping back and considering what they could do today to move the ball forward. Like any other parameter, a lack of resources often spurs new ideas and innovation. Don’t let less money hold you back. You may get more than you imagined.

This way of approaching how you get things done is transformational. I’ve seen it again and again in organizations of all types and sizes. We just have to give ourselves permission to fix something that’s not broken. What could that mean in your organization?

Let’s explore new possibilities. Contact us to facilitate a session with your team.