Obstacle-Proof

The space shuttle had approximately 2.5 million moving parts. There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in the human brain. There are approximately 2,300,000 stone blocks weighing from two to 30 tons each in the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Chinese Tianhe-2 supercomputer is purportedly the fastest in the world with 33.86 quadrillion of FLOPS (floating-point operations per second).

“That’s really going to be hard.” “I don’t know if we can do that.” Ever heard someone utter these phrases? Sometimes we struggle to get our head around a difficult project or initiative and our default thinking goes to seeing the obstacles rather than the opportunity. This may be especially true for those who are linear thinkers. The obvious cliché here is that of “staying inside the box.” We are stuck in traditional thought patterns and are unable to immediately see the multiple options that exist with nearly every decision that must be made. It doesn’t have to be this way – witness the amazing feats described in building the space shuttle, performing complicated brain surgery, constructing the Great Pyramid and creating the supercomputer.

Every organization needs a combination of linear and abstract thinkers to provide a healthy balance of ideas. Those of us who are extremely creative and can dream in a big way need down-to-earth team members with whom we test our ideas. That said, I’m an advocate for the notion that the organizational mindset should be “how we can” as opposed to “why we can’t.”

Here’s an example of the “how we can” philosophy. Let’s say that Company A manufactures a particular type of fastener. Business has been growing and then the CEO receives a call from a prospective customer, Company B, indicating that it would like to place an order for fasteners that represents 35% of the company’s production. Company A is operating at full capacity and cannot divert any product away from its steady customers. But the CEO in typical entrepreneurial fashion, isn’t about to tell Company B that he can’t supply the fasteners. When he pulls his team together he could hear a lot of “why we can’t,” or he can challenge his team members to tell him how Company A can meet the current production requirements and also increase production by 35%.

Instilling the “how we can” mindset is not a walk down Pollyanna lane. Instead it involves convincing a team to develop a default perspective of looking around, over and under the obstacles and figuring out what steps can be taken to achieve the goal. We start by creating the path to success. Then we work backwards and look at the risks involved and how to manage them. Perhaps Company A can’t add a second shift to produce the extra fasteners because it doesn’t want to risk having excess labor capacity after the order is filled. But as an alternative, maybe Company C that’s not a direct competitor, could “white label” the fasteners and produce them under the watchful eye of Company A. While the profitability may be less by using Company C, Company A may be able to win a new customer in Company B, whose repeat business results in a permanent expansion of production capacity.

It’s also important that the entrepreneur not send the signal to his team that “we’re going to make this work come hell or high water.” The danger with plowing ahead is that the more skeptical and cautious members of the team may simply acquiesce rather than express their true opinions. And those who are the natural risk takers may run toward the cliff at full speed without realizing that there’s real pain 400 feet down!

We want to inspire team members to build a “how we can” enterprise. And simultaneously we thoughtfully measure risk and return on investment. The endgame is a dynamic organization that always pushes the boundaries to grow in a healthy fashion.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

obstaclecourse

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