“We’ve always done it this way” is one of the most dangerous phrases used in business. These words are an indicator that people are thinking in narrow, negative, and habitual ways. Part of a leader’s job is to elevate her employees to a higher standard of performance by igniting their imaginations. Leaders know that mental grooves of habit eventually form ruts of routine, killing innovation. As the saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” Newness can’t come from sameness.
It’s difficult to inspire creativity by being boring. Yet so many leaders do just that—they use stale approaches in a futile attempt to jumpstart fresh ideas. For example, many a leader will host a brainstorming session by gathering people in a bland meeting room that is regularly used to review the monthly accounting reports. He will schedule the session to begin at 2 p.m., just in time for everyone’s after-lunch coma to set in. He will stand next to a white piece of flipchart paper with a black marker that no longer works, and gleefully exclaims: “Okay everyone, let’s get creative!” Does this sound familiar?
Effective leaders help others to think in more imaginative ways. For example, the chief marketing officer of a large manufacturer of paper plates, cups, and napkins needed his team to stop relying on discounting as the default method for increasing sales of their commodity products. He wanted better ideas than just pumping out more Sunday coupons. So instead of gathering his team for another boring brainstorming session, he hosted a lavish picnic at a local park. He arranged a backyard barbeque, complete with picnic tables, red-and-white checkered tablecloths, and games such as horseshoe and corn hole. And the company’s plates, cups, and napkins were present, too. These products weren’t mere commodities, but rather an essential part of the group experience.
The leader had helped people understand that on any summer day, their products were smack-dab in the middle of customers’ backyard barbeques, picnics, and birthday parties. The company’s products mattered because they helped make family time more fun and worry-free.
After this experience, it didn’t take long for the team members to fire up their imaginations. When people started offering new marketing ideas, the word “discounting” was never spoken. Instead, they described a new campaign centered on the good feelings of a warm summer afternoon. They talked about partnering with an outdoor grill company. They sketched a new summer flower design border for their plates and napkins. They imagined an interactive website where customers could swap their favorite picnic recipes. The leader had shifted people’s thinking simply by getting them away from their ordinary work environment.
In the field of aviation, CAVU is an often-used aeronautical acronym. It’s a term that applies well to leadership, too. Leaders need to help people shift away from, “We’ve always done it that way,” to “Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited!”
Learn more about how leaders create growth through opportunity in Bill’s latest book, Leaders Open Doors, available for pre-order. Bill is donating 100 percent of the book royalties to programs that support kids with special needs.