'Thinking Outside The Box' Is One Of The Most Dangerous Phrases In Business
In their recent book, "The Wisdom Of Failure," Larry Weinzimmer and Jim McConoughey take a look at the lessons businesses can learn from when things go very wrong.
In a phone interview, Dr. Weinzimmer highlighted the need for balance. On one side, leaders get seduced by efficiency and end up making things nobody wants. On the other side, leaders can get so excited by the prospect of a quick buck that they end up in the wrong business.
A particular pet peeve of Dr. Weinzimmer's, which leads to that second failure, is the phrase "thinking outside of the box." "I think its one of the most, if not the most overused term in business today," Weinzimmer says, "I really don't understand what that box is that we’re talking about, or what the boundaries of that box are."
It's not just overused. It's dangerous. "There are times when thinking outside the box, that phrase, it’s appropriate. If you’re thinking about your product design, or maybe a new way to innovate value for your customers," Dr. Weinzimmer told us, "but when you’re talking about the strategic direction of your company, that’s when thinking outside the box could get dangerous, when you start getting involved in businesses that really don't align with what you’re currently doing."
"...you just follow things that are shiny or chase pennies with dollars, and thinking outside the box really encourages that kind of behavior where you give away your strategic direction and go outside the parameters of what you define as your own business."
Companies leaders try to because their own backyard is boring. That leads them to neglect their most successful asset, as Netscape did, or make the sort of wasteful investments that can kill companies. In the meantime, according to Dr. Weinzimmer, there are more opportunities in their own backyard than most businesses could ever conceive of getting to.
"I can guarantee if you’re looking into somebody else’s backyard, and thinking the grass looks pretty green, there’s somebody looking over the fence into your backyard thinking the grass looks pretty green," Weinzimmer said, "and so when you look at a lot of successful companies, the low hanging fruit, or the easy strategic decisions are the ones that are in their own backyard already.
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