Turn the Prism

By Scott Westerman

Remember when “reinventing the wheel” was a bad thing?

We currently live smack dab in the middle of an era that requires reinvention. Those tried and true patterns that used to guide us don’t necessarily work anymore and the new stars will be those creative people who can look at the immense challenges we face and find a new way to meet them.

We all look at the world through a prism of paradigms. Our experience, education and corporate cultures are the tripod on which this prism is mounted. The sunlight that shines through it, paints colors on the synapses of our brains that generate the ideas we put into action.

What happens if you turn the prism?

One of the “4 Guidelines for 2009” I shared with our team during our annual retreat was to look at old problems in a new way, Turning the Prism of our paradigms to find out what fresh rainbows might be revealed. We then performed an anything-goes exercise. If we could waive a magic wand and make anything possible, what would we do?

You would be surprised at what magic can happen in this environment.

Example: When I was chairman of the Dreams Come True board in Jacksonville, Florida, our little office had traditionally lived, rent-free, on the largess of a kind board members who had extra space at their firms. We needed a our own building.

Paradigm: The tried and true game plan was to raise enough money from donors to build it. We determined that we would need 2.8 million dollars to get it done and began to identify people with big enough checkbooks to help us.

Turning the Prism: Along came a generous general contractor who believed in the Cause. He said, “Let me see how much I can get donated.” That turned our prism. We approached a large and very famous landowner in Jacksonville with the idea. He gave us 2 acres of prime business land. The contractor was able to get 100% of both the materials and labor donated by his suppliers and subs. I personally wired the place for video and Internet with volunteers from my company. Everyone had a blast and it felt great to put our own sweat equity towards such an important project. We continued to raise the 2.8 million anyway and it became an endowment to fund our brand new, mortgage-free, building’s operation.. forever.

The further you can push this idea generator into your organization, the better. In our shop, we try to let the supervisor team do the reinventing. They are one step away from the customer and work everyday with our smartest team members.. the front line employees.

Some key ideas to help you get started.

1) Begin with the end in mind – Steven Covey’s chestnut is still as valuable today as it was when he gave it to us in his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. What is the end state? How does success look? How will you measure it?

2) Start from the premise that all things are possible – It’s easy to get mired in reasons why an idea -won’t- work. Don’t fall into that trap.

3) Involve the stakeholders – The best ideas come from those who execute.. and benefit.

4) Encourage Crazy – From the craziest ideas often come the best solutions. Pizza guys delivering cable boxes? Somebody suggested that to me and our “Pizza and a Movie” promotion came to be.

5) Test on a small scale and celebrate failure – I like to encourage risk taking. We celebrate failure like Thomas Edison did: “I am not discouraged,” he is quoted as saying, “because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Several parallel tests can yield tweaks and learnings that can be leveraged. Sometimes it’s a mix of processes that end up being the right idea. And eliminating the fear of failure is the most empowering thing you can do for a person.

6) Be patient and be tenacious – If this stuff were easy, everybody would be doing it. The guy who invented the wildly popular Red Box DVD rental vending machines tried it years ago with video tapes.. and failed. He lives Winston Churchill’s mantra, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, Never, Never.” His company is forcing the formerly dominant video stores to turn their prisms big time.

6) Foster a “Culture of Innovation” – That’s my marketing term for getting people to accept… and even become excited about change. After all, we’re in an environment where things MUST change if we are to survive.

Turning the prism can work well in the human resource realm, too.

One of my proudest moments was preserving a long term, loyal and dedicated player who was on the wrong seat on our bus. We turned the prism to discover what activities brought him the most joy, and found a way he could express that joy and continue to serve. I got push-back from the higher ups at first, but never lost faith in him. He has become a high performer and is highly respected in his new role. And most importantly, he’s happy and is supercharged to come to work each day. Something that shows in his relationships and work product. Best of all, We continue to benefit from his wisdom, institutional memory and experience.

And what about you? What could happen if you turn the prism and look at your career, your relationships, and your behaviors through a different light?

On my fridge, my wife has a magnet that says “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

What would you do?

Turn the prism and that dream could become a reality.