If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing differently

Today is Opposite Day (25th January, 2024)

The book Doing it Different, published in 1999, was the result of interviews I and a colleague, Sue Kernaghan carried out with companies around the world that we identified on the basis that they were radically different form everyone else in their industry sector. Many were prime examples of the principle that “the worst markets are often the most fertile ground to build a business”.

A core lesson we learned was that: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing differently. The entrepreneurs who created these companies had strong beliefs about how a company should be run and these ran contrary to what the rest of the industry said.

That study led to multiple experiments in companies using the following creative process:

  1. Create a flow diagram of how a normal organisation would approach each stage of its business. (An organisation could be a company, a function, or a team.)
  2. Taking each step in turn, explore What would it look like to do this the opposite way round?
  3. Link each of these different perspectives into a new flow diagram

For example, shoe retail expects the customer to go a shop. Suppose instead that they went only once, to have their feet measured. Instead of viewing shoes in the shop, the customer receives a monthly email showing the latest shoe styles – as worn by their own, personalised avatar.

Or imagine a restaurant, where the chef did no cooking, but instead helped customers to cook their own meals. (The fondu principle expanded.)

The concept even worked at the level of organisational purpose. Why, for example, are hospitals focused on making sick people well, rather than stopping people getting sick in the first place?

A core conclusion we came to was that most organisations’ systems are an accident of circumstance. A pivotal part of that is how they defined the problem the system was intended to solve. A different definition might have led to a radically different way of organising.

I enjoy helping teams to step into the world of unforeseen possibilities by asking them to list as many assumptions as they can about the team purpose, its customers and stakeholders, the limitations on what it can and can’t do and so on. Then to explore as creatively as possible why that assumption might be wrong.

It doesn’t matter, if the team concludes that the way it does things is the still most appropriate. On the way to that conclusion they will have gained a much deeper understanding of their systems that will make them more capable of creating radical new solutions, should their environment encounter radical change.

© David Clutterbuck January 2024




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