For instance, on one mission, the Team was required to get a document out of a safe that was impossible to crack. They had one of the best safe-crackers in the business helping them and, after reviewing the plans and specs for the safe, had to tell Mr. Phelps that it was impossible to break into. Phelps’ reply was to tell the team, “Of course it’s impossible to break into this safe. That’s why we’re not going to break in…we’re going to break out.”
Phelps figured out that, if he could just sneak a man into the safe (hidden in a large suitcase), then it would be easy for that person to get the document and break out of the safe once he had access to the tumblers for the lock and all of the other electronics from the inside of the door. He was right, of course, and the team accomplished another “impossible” mission simply by NOT approaching the problem the way everyone had always done it before.
At our utilities, we hear the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” a lot. This phrase has stopped innovations from happening since the dawn of time. Our utility used to have a real problem with sewer spills. When I asked how we stop them, everyone said that we can’t stop them… it’s impossible because we cannot force people to change what they do in their own homes (like pouring oil and grease down their drains) which cause sewer spills. We refused to accept this answer and instead launched a Used Cooking Oil Recycling and Biodiesel Program coupled with a major customer outreach effort. By capturing the public’s attention in a way not tried before, we have reduced sewer spills in our system more than 70%!
What is stopping progress and innovation at your company? Push back HARD every time you get an answer like, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” There is very likely a new and unique way to solve the problem that is different from the way you’ve always done it.
ACTION: Challenge assumption! Blaze your own path! Find new and innovative ways to solve problems…there are plenty of them for you to tackle!