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VOL. 128 | NO. 170 | Friday, August 30, 2013
Graber Atkinson

Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson

The [Fill in the Blank] Way

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Each professional entity has a way of handling business. This way is encoded with spoken and codified rules and unspoken and non-verbal clues on how to perform. What gets done, how decisions are made and how money gets allocated can be defined as “culture.” This way, then, is an explicit and implicit set of rituals that reward or punish based on its own complicated, internal logic.

This way, the culture, has adapted over the years. Still, this way is now a well-defined machine of productivity. It weeds out unfitting talent and risks, and it refines work and the flow of work to a crystalline precision. This way creates a shorthand, and saves money, time, and preserves the sense of the place.

Think about it for a minute. What is your organization’s way for handling presentations, new product decisions, new market assessments, service issues, resolving conflicts? What are the processes, check points, keys to enrollment and styles of presentation that have become the default way in your organization? How are people rewarded or punished?

Now, do yourself and your organization a valuable favor. Acknowledge that this way is only an agreed upon construction of reality, a mental model and not reality itself.

Here is why: noticing the norms of a model, a way, and then consciously unlearning some of its defaults are key steps in taking breakthrough, disruptive innovations to the market.

You see, every culture has antibodies built into the system. New ideas are typically rejected as vehemently as foreign objects are rejected by a body. The ____ way may be your biggest obstacle. Therefore, you have to develop the visionary ability to zoom out and get a real sense of the market potential of a new business concept without the blinding shackles of “how we do it today” limiting the thinking.

Sure, there is a time for risks assessment, validation, and a synthesis period of how we, as the ____ way, take this completely new line of business in a channel to market, but if you don’t cultivate this keen zooming out ability, the culture will not allow you to dream valuable dreams.

Remember, those who are called to innovate have to be systems thinkers and visionaries. Luckily, both are learnable skills. The factor that stymies innovation most is the unconscious defaults of a company culture. Those who recognize the system’s operating assumptions and gently inspire others to stretch their thinking on behalf of the organization change the culture in countless positive ways.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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