So Long GM

Posted by Steve C on June 5, 2009 under The Blog | Be the First to Comment

Why is there a need for innovative, no box thinking? One answer is June 1, 2009. That was the day that the “Heartbeat of America” passed on and our government got into the auto business. GM has been close to the brink of bankruptcy before, and finally caved in amidst the current economic struggles strangling the world.

Have you set back and deeply thought about this or did you simply shrug your shoulders and say, Oh well!” In today’s world, the company could not stay the course, so they learned the consequences of continuing poor performance. We are not here to debate why this happened. It did.

But I wonder how many people could not in the wildest dreams ever really believe that GM would end up as new department of the government. I wonder how many GM people believed this, especially in the top levels of the organization. I wonder how many courageous decisions that needed to be made at the company were never made. All their talk about how competitive they were and how equal their cars were, was not enough, was it?

So here is the question Assuming they were unfairly disadvantaged as they claimed with their costs for pensions, health care, and supplements for laid off or idle workers, blah, blah, blah, what did they do that was dramatically different to address them – besides ongoing harping and endless confrontations with the unions. Did they make marked improvements with labor, so they all were committed to success, or did they approach the relationships in virtually the same ways. Did they try truly innovative approaches to selling new cars, beyond new features and deep discounts. I truly hope so, but fear they worst. Clearly, strategies such as On-Star and employee comparable discounts for everyone were nowhere near bold enough.

If you think you can stay pretty much the same and survive today, take some cash and buy your corporate tomb stone right now. You will not make it. And you should not. My guess is that an unfair playing field or other external forces are not the biggest problem for companies such as GM or perhaps yours. It is too many people, including those in senior management positions, who are permanently parked in the box of yesterday’s world (whether they believe it or not). That is the real issue that must be resolved.

Think about it.


No Box Recruiting

Posted by Steve C on April 6, 2009 under The Blog | Read the First Comment

Recruiting for many organizations is often times a real crap shoot. Think about what it must be like to find and keep talent in a call center, where high turnover is a fact of life.

So check out Zappos. Their approach is by no means typical, but sounds as if it is proving to be very effective.

The fast-growing company, which works hard to recruit people to join, says to its newest employees: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” Zappos actually bribes its new employees to quit!

Why? Because if you’re willing to take the company up on The Offer, you obviously don’t have the sense of commitment they are looking for. It’s hard to describe the level of energy in the Zappos culture–which means, by definition, it’s not for everybody. Zappos wants to learn if there’s a bad fit between what makes the organization tick and what makes individual employees tick–and it’s willing to pay to learn sooner rather than later. (About ten percent of new call-center employees take the money and run.)

Bribing people to quit. Hmmm, doubt if that is in the handbook of “how recruiting should be done.” Maybe you should consider how you might ignore the way recruiting in your organization has always been done and find similar breakthroughs.

For more detail:


No Box in the 2008 campaign

Posted by Steve C on March 27, 2009 under The Blog | Be the First to Comment

The cover headline of the April 2009 issue of Fast Company reads “The Kid Who Made Obama President.” The teaser continues with, “How Facebook Co-founder Chris Hughes Unleashed Barack’s Base – and Changed Politics and Marketing Forever.”

Think about this for a moment. Could a 25 year old really do anything substantial enough to impact an election – or to change politics and marketing forever? Please, enough with the hyperbole, right? Regardless of your political persuasion, I suggest you read the article, as this is not another story simply heaping praise and adulation on the new President. Rather, it is a story about how Hughes used his knowledge and imagination about social networking on the internet to produce some astonishing results, much to the delight of Obama and his supporters. As is reported in the story, volunteers had used to: “create more than 2 million profiles, plan 200,000 real-world events, form 35,000 volunteer groups, register 1 million voters, post 400,000 blogs and raise $30 million on 70,000 people’s own fund-raising pages.” Real people in every part of the country, who somehow wanted to get involved in electing their candidate, suddenly had a very organized and synergistic way to do so.

Couple of key points here. First, these kind of results would have been seen as surreal, not just impossible before the election. Ignoring the box can often produce the unproducible. Next, you may disregard this creative use of the web as interesting but irrelevant to the outcome. Maybe so, but think about it this way. During the next election would you rather your candidate or the other candidate have this kind of means to rally and capitalize on volunteer support? Finally, never underestimate what a young person (or middle-aged or elderly person for that matter) can accomplish when passion kicks into gear.

Denying the Public School Box

Posted by Steve C on November 18, 2008 under The Blog | Be the First to Comment

Ever heard of Michelle Rhee? In the summer of 2007, she became the first chancellor of the Washington DC public school system, considered one of the worst public school systems in the country. In a profile of her in the November 2008 edition of The Atlantic, author Clay Risen wrote:

“Since her arrival, Rhee, just 38 years old, has become the most controversial figure in American public education and the standard bearer for a new type of schools leader nationwide.”

He went on to say:

“She and her cohort often seek to bypass the traditional forces of education schools and unions, instead embracing nontraditional reform mechanisms like charter schools, vouchers and the No Child Left Behind Act.”

Rhee has received a great deal of praise for her progress. People have flocked from across the country to work for her and foundations and businesses have flooded her with offers to help, including providing cash. Everything must be roses, right? Not so. The article goes on to describe the political hornet’s nest she has found herself in. Check out this comment:

“Washington, in other words, is a battlefield and national testing ground where upstart young reformers are pitted against an establishment unwilling to give ground to what it sees as reckless social experiments.”

No one ever said ignoring the box would be smooth sailing. My interpretation of the remainder of the article was how Rhee is willing to toss out almost everything that has not worked, in order to make the DC school system a showcase, which could impact public education across the nation. And she is confronting a number of opponents – unions, politicians, and activists – who are trying to clip her wings, push her back inside the box, and keep things pretty much the same as they are now.

When politics are involved, there seems to be an endless onslaught of barriers designed to prevent any kind of change in the way things get done. Rhee will have her hands full, just like everyone else who decides to take on the status quo in a big way. What history tells us is the school system in DC or anyplace else will not dramatically improve without dramatic change. It will be interesting to see to what extent she can overcome the crushing pressure of the current system and make her dream a reality.


Blame is not a Strategy

Posted by Steve C on September 30, 2008 under The Blog | Be the First to Comment

I am terribly disappointed. It seems the box is alive and well in Washington. As a nation we are facing one of our most trying moments in recent history with the financial crisis. The market is like a death-defying roller coaster, and the resulting credit crunch is going to cause some ongoing and very difficult problems for many. So what is the response from our elected statespeople – point the finger – at anyone.

If I hear one more time, the cause of the crisis as failed Bush administration policies, I believe I will lose my mind. Even if there are some failed policies, does Congress not share some responsibility for not acting on the ongoing White House warnings about the inevitable problems, which have been presented since the early 2000′s? Do our so-called leaders believe a lame-duck President is really the sole cause, or more importantly, do they think the average American believes this crisis is solely the fault of one person. Please! Also do they believe that the blame game is helping to achieve a solution?

It appears out political process is stuck in a box, and not a good box at that. Putting forth and tackling politically risky issues before they fully occur is not smart when the goal is re-election. And hopefully I have missed this, but why are the brilliant economists and experienced business people being left out? It seems the last minute solutions are being concocted by a number of life-long, but non-financial expert politicians, without the advice and counsel of innovative and experienced thinkers in complicated financial manners. Why is this expertise being ignored? Are the politicians afraid that the solutions which may evolve may have a negative impact on their re-electability? Or do they just think they are so smart, they do not need the help? Scary, isn’t it.

Self and party preservation seems to be the rules of the box, and now we are facing a crisis where those rules are going to cause a catastrophe. I am hopeful that at least of few of our elected officials will choose to let go of the politics box, and create some real and innovative solutions to the dilemma we now face. Solutions to big, tough problems are never found in a box and our officials need to accept that.

So, if it helps, I have an offer for all those self-centered, terrified and finger pointing people in Congress. They can blame me for everything. It will do as much good as blaming anyone else. Then maybe they can get it out of their systems, let go of the blaming box and start resolving the problem.


No Box Summer Camp

Posted by Steve C on July 29, 2008 under The Blog | Read the First Comment

I’ll bet you don’t see a photo like this around your place of work much. This is what ignoring the box looks like.

During the week of July 21, the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) held their summer youth camp at the Joy Outdoor Education Center, just north of Cincinnati. The campers were kids aged 10 – 16, who have been missing limbs since birth or because of cancer, accidents, or even gunshot wounds.

Besides the traditional camping activities, they had the opportunity to participate in a ropes course, a series of challenging activities, connected together by wires and ropes, A typical activity might be inching across a balance beam, or walking a shaky tightrope with a very loose rope as the only handhold. As tame as these may sound, they suddenly become much more challenging, if not terrifying, when they are 25 or so feet in the air. We have worked with countless adult groups who have to muster up some real courage to participate.

So here we have kids, some who are frightened by height and all who are missing a limb or two, doing the high ropes course.

Now wait a darn minute. A high ropes
course is hard enough for people with arms and hands and legs. This can’t be done by kids with amputations! But it can. And it was. Try this one on for size. One 13 year old got about half way through an activity, when – gasp – his artificial leg fell off, landing 30 feet below. With a No Box spirit, he matter-of-factly responded, “I’ll finish without the leg.”

Adults who are stuck in a box can produce some truly whiny excuses to avoid a challenge like this. I don’t have enough upper body strength, my legs are too short, I am too overweight, blah, blah, blah. Think about the excuses some of these kids could have come up with. “Uh, I am wearing a leg prosthesis” or “I am missing a couple of arms.” But they didn’t.

Hooray for everyone, especially these kids, who prove that limits imposed by the box of conventional thinking can indeed be ignored. Don’t let the box keep you from being great.

Learn more about ACA or Camp Joy

To enjoy some video:


Unusual Interview

Posted by Steve C on July 1, 2008 under The Blog | Be the First to Comment

I recently came across this lead-in from an article on The

When Andrew Morton interviewed to work at Comtrend, a high-tech equipment manufacturer, he didn’t bring a resume. He brought a business plan.

The article went on to explain quite a bit about Morton, Comtrend and the direction they are headed (yes, he got the job). But it was the statement above that caught my eye.

Doesn’t conventional wisdom specify that you have a resume handy for an interview? But ignoring the box, Morton brought a business plan instead. Do you think that might have made him at least a bit more distinctive, from other candidates who might have been seeking the same position? Even if Morton was not exactly correct in his plan, what message did it send to Comtrend about his interest, willingness to prepare, and ability to apply some real thinking toward important business issues?

This reminds me of one of the problems in many organizations today. Too many managers at virtually every level, spend too much time preparing status or activity reports, and little or no time doing some real thinking about the direction or strategies the business should take. The status report is like the resume – “here is what I have already done.” Reviewing current status is important, but so is deep thinking about the future. So with all the focus on current activity, who is doing the strategic thinking work?

If you want to make yourself distinctive, try viewing your piece of the business as if you are the owner. Learn about it, think deeply about it, and do the hard work of figuring out how to best differentiate your organization’s value and capabilities in the external marketplace. Don’t settle for simply reviewing yesterday’s work. Develop and willingly offer your “business plan” of growth possibilities and strategies. It will benefit your business, and clearly shine the light internally on your own value and capabilities as well.

Square Watermelons

Posted by Steve C on June 9, 2008 under The Blog | Be the First to Comment

Many of you by now have heard about or seen the wonderful new no box innovation out of Japan – square watermelons! Think about all the benefits. They are easier and less costly to ship, stack better and take up much less room on the grocery shelves. Apparently, they taste the same. But don’t they look strange?

Time will tell if people refuse them because of their new shape, or will openly accept them. For many, it may take some getting used to. And there will likely be some who will never accept anything but an oblong watermelon, because, that is the way a watermelon is supposed to be. The ironclad mindset is one reason it is so hard for some to venture very far away from the box. Just remember, because something is different, does not mean it is wrong.

Are you attempting to grow any “square watermelons” in your organization? Or are your metaphorical watermelons (be they processes, products, packaging or whatever) always going to be oblong and bulky, because they have always been that way. Give that some serious thought. Who knows – your customers might be longing for you to provide unique and exciting value to them by “squaring up” a few things.


No Box at Disney

Posted by Steve C on April 27, 2008 under The Blog | Be the First to Comment

Looks like we are in good company. The online site, leadershiphub, provided a review of How To Be Like Walt, a book detailing key lessons from Walt Disney, by Pat Williams with Jim Denney. They labeled one of the key points from the book as THERE IS NO BOX.
“Today you hear people talk about ‘thinking outside the box’. But Walt would say, ‘No! Don’t think outside the box! Once you say that, you’ve established that there is a box.’ Walt would refuse to accept the existence of the box.”

- Disney historian Jim Korkis

Perhaps this helps explain why Walt Disney was such a great visionary and created so much magic. Are you willing to be more like Walt and refuse to accept the box?

The Birthday Box

Posted by Steve C on April 14, 2008 under The Blog | Be the First to Comment

For some reason the box becomes more a part of our lives as we grow older. A kid can build a spaceship out of a piece of cardboard, but all an adult can do is talk about why you cannot build a spaceship out of a piece of cardboard.

Five year-old Drew Friend of Cincinnati is a no box kind of guy. As his birthday approached, his mom asked him what he wanted. Think about how he may have answered. By now there is probably a version of really slick iPhone or at least an iPod for a 5 year old, or an X-box or some other cool gadget. How about a hot new bike or an official major league baseball glove? For a kid his age, the list could go on and on. But Drew had a most unusual answer. He told his mom that he wanted nothing! He said he was happy with the toys he already had and maybe some other kids needed the gifts more than he did.

Rather than take him to the hospital for a brain scan to detect his abnormal behavior, Drew’s mother Shannon shared his comments with the congregation at their church. The church found a family and the rest is history. As you might expect, as word got out, Drew received a boatload of presents from family, friends and other generous contributors. And he gave them all away. In fact 5 families benefited from Drew’s selfless display of generosity and caring. And they received more than games and toys. Clothes, towels, money, even bunk beds were all types of gifts that Drew passed on.

There is a box that says kids deserve to be spoiled on their birthdays with wonderful gifts. For some, there is even a box that says make sure you get your kid something cooler than all the other kids. (Oh, the crazy ways we sometimes choose to compete!) But little Drew has not yet become trapped in the box, so he asked for something that, as he said, “would make a good feeling in my heart.”

I would not be surprised to see Drew’s example become the cornerstone of a new and different avenue for helping people in need. Others, kids and adults, will choose to follow in his footsteps of giving. Like a growth leader, he has challenged conventional wisdom and created something new, which will no doubt benefit many. One never knows what will result by saying no to the box, even the birthday box.

Drew did receive something special, in case you are wondering. He got to help deliver all of the presents to the families. Oh yes, and the lead delivery vehicle just happened to be a fire truck from the local fire department, with Drew riding shotgun. Imagine that as a 5 year-old!

Ironic isn’t it, that if Drew would have originally asked to ride on a fire truck, he would have likely gotten a polite response about the impossibility of that request, or at best, a trip down to the firehouse to climb on the back of a truck.

It is a wide-open world when you are not confined in the box. Way to go, Drew.