Leap Boundaries & Barriers with a Single Question

Man Jumping Over Gap

Create an Environment That Produces Solutions

In our training engagements, we run a brainstorming activity that we call the Million Dollar Exercise. Team members use a small Hacky Sack–type “Solve It” ball, which they toss around in order to single out whose turn it is to offer up a new idea. It’s a bit like passing a hot potato, except here, the person with the ball has to come up with an idea that could help overcome whatever boundary or barrier the team happens to be working on.

On more than one occasion, this little activity has generated solutions that have led to more than $1 million in returns to those engaging with it. The game—which really isn’t a game at all—proves over and over that solutions to any problem do actually exist; you just need to dig for them. Creating the right environment for that digging is what asking “The Solve It Question” is all about.

“What else can I do?” or “What else can we do?” (in the case of a team) begins as a serious question that tests your resolve against taking no for an answer and for finding a way to get it done no matter what. There will always be something blocking your path, hindering your progress, and dragging you down. That’s the nature of business and life. But constantly asking “What else can I/we do?” will create a steady stream of solutions. It’s really no more complicated than that.

It’s About Overcoming Obstacles

Barriers that impede performance, creativity, communication, and problem solving crucial to success in today’s fast-paced and competitive business environment are real; removal of those barriers often happens too slow or too sporadically. At eBay, for example, there are few barriers to accomplishing anything anyone can dream up… anymore. Today eBay has 160 million active users, many whom earn their living off the site. This is a creative and demanding crowd who don’t want to be stopped from achieving their own desired results.

But it wasn’t always this way; when the company was new, a system crash due to inadequate “barrier hurdling” nearly swamped the start-up. It was then that CEO Meg Whitman hired Maynard Webb away from Gateway. She paid him more than twice her own salary and gave him an open road—free from of all bureaucratic and political barriers—to build a system that now handles over a billion transactions a day.

Quite a Solve It solution coming from what must have been a series of “What else can we do?” questions.

Learn That “What Else…” Means Think Different, Not Do More

Highly accountable people who are driven by, What else can I do to achieve the desired results? understand that “else” means “different,” as in alternatives or options, not “more,” as in more hours in the office and more weekends at work. “What else…?” isn’t a guilt trip.

FedEx Chairman and CEO Fred Smith thrives on the challenge of solving customer problems, recognizing that profit is directly tied to solving them. Their thinking “different” mindset and “What else can we do?” culture has led them to introduce a number of new services over the years, including:

  • special home delivery,
  • ground transportation,
  • high volume business to consumer services,
  • urgent freight services,
  • Kinko’s office and print,
  • customs brokerage services,
  • trade advisory services,
  • supply chain management,
  • and cloud print services.

All of this and more represents new thinking and new solutions to ever evolving customer problems. Mr. Smith describes their “Solve It” philosophy this way:

“The simple truth of today’s consumer is that they expect more,  they expect different, and they have more options for getting those  expectations met…no matter how good you are,  you’ve always got to get better…satisfying your customer  is a never-ending process…the sooner you accept that premise, the sooner you’ll begin raising the satisfaction quotient for your customer.”

Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx

Be a Prophet to Make a Profit

By solving your customers’ problems differently (and better) than anyone else, you will keep their business. If you’re already solving your customers’ current problems, then focus on solving their future problems, the ones they don’t even see coming. How do you develop this kind of “prophetic eye in order to fix it before it’s broken?” By realizing that “what else” means “different” and asking the Solve It question constantly.

It’s a given that every business must take pride in solving customer’ needs, but an over-confidence often leads to an “all is well” attitude, one that can distance an organization from its customers, keep employees from “looking beyond their immediate successes,” and lull executives into defending the “tried and true.” Resting on current competitive advantages or strategic positions is no longer an option, you must look ahead by asking the question.

The pervasive nature of a “stuck in the rut,” way of thinking shows up in a statistic from our recent Workplace Accountability Study, a study heavily cited in our new book Fix It: Getting Accountability Right. When looking at something as simple as “by-when’s,” 62% of respondents said that established deadlines aren’t adhered to and tend to be viewed only as general guidelines, rather than must-do mandates.

This somewhat casual or even lazy way of thinking puts a stranglehold on “What else can we do…?” thinking and kills solution strategizing.

Getting Yourself and Others Focused on Solutions

To turn your understanding and ownership into real problem-solving action:

  • Stay engaged. Never focus on what you can’t do; look for what you can do.
  • Always ask the Solve It question: “What else can I/we do?”
  • Think differently. Remember, the same thinking that got you into a problem won’t get you out.
  • Create new linkages. Solutions usually involve building new relationships.
  • Take the initiative. Be someone who makes things happen.
  • Step out of your comfort zone. Challenge your current assumptions and beliefs in order to break through to new levels of thinking.

Consciously moving through these steps will help you break any boundaries and barriers that are keeping you from success and teach you the true value of constantly asking, “What else can I/we do to achieve the desired results?”

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