Leaders who come up with a novel solution to a problem are often considered great thinkers and therefore great leaders. Our society admires those who provide a fresh idea, an innovative product or service or a unique way of viewing things. Steve Jobs comes to mind as a great innovator and a great leader. Jobs was able to use his intuition to come up with simple designs and ideas that advanced technology in unconventional and unanticipated ways. His legacy as a great leader and great innovator will be long lasting.
I was in Boston recently to watch the Red Sox play the Tigers at Fenway Park. Fenway Park is awesome! My son and I watched the game from on top of the Green Monster! What an experience! While we were in Boston, we went by a fire station in an older building. The building had been designated as “historic” meaning that it was old, still had a high degree of physical integrity and possessed historical significance. Once a building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, building renovations are strictly limited. The problem this caused was that fire equipment has evolved since the time the building was built. Horses no longer pull water tanks and ladders to the site of a fire. New fire trucks could not fit through the doors of the firehouse built to house horses and carriages. The doors or entrance could not be modified, so what could they do?
Fortunately, in addition to an old fire station, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is also located in Boston. The engineering department volunteered to solve the problem, and they did! By lowering the fire station floor by just four inches, the problem was solved. A “simple” solution to a difficult problem and proof at how smart those guys are at MIT!
On my flight home from Boston, I read an article written by Jason Dorsey in Success magazine entitled, “Ignite Innovation.” Dorsey offers a few different ideas on how to come up with innovative ideas. Here is a couple that I liked.
Approach your problem as if you only had 24 hours to solve it, no money to spend on the solution and no one else to help you come up with a solution. Human nature is to take the path of least resistance and this technique gets rid of the most common paths of least resistance. If you try this, I guarantee you will surprise yourself at the ideas you come up with.
Another technique to try is to look at the problem as if you are 10 years old. Better yet, if you know a 10 year old, use him or her as a consultant. I remember hearing about a situation when a guy driving a huge RV was stuck under an overhead pass that was about an inch lower than the height of the RV. Traffic was backed up, with many getting out of their vehicles to offer assistance or vent their frustration. Various solutions were tossed out to expedite getting the RV unstuck with minimal damage, but none the RV owner wanted to take action on. Finally, a 10 year old boy suggested that they let some air out of the RV’s tires, suggesting that would lower the height of the RV just enough to back out. Once out, the tires could easily be re-inflated. It worked!
What techniques do you use when trying to create a new innovative, fresh perspective? The better innovator you are, the more likely the better leader you are.
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