– George Saunders
Ingersoll-Rand makes serious stuff – power tools, air compressors, hoists, winches, that kind of serious. The kind of serious that if they go wrong, they could cost a limb or a life.
As a result, they have rigorous product development processes. It generally took them four years to take an idea from conception to execution. The timeline felt justified. It kept serious stuff safe but over time they started to question whether their processes had become too complex, they wanted to explore whether they could do things differently.
To do this, they established a team who were given the challenge of producing a new grinder in one year – a quarter of the normal product development process.
As the team worked, they hit a conundrum, should the new grinder have a metal or plastic casing? The plastic casing would be more comfortable for customers to use, but would it hold up as well as the metal?
That opened up another conundrum, Ingersoll-Rand’s material testing process was arduous and lengthy. Bye-bye one year.
The team sat with the challenge. They needed good data to make the right decision, but they needed to do it much quicker. Convention went one way; the solution lay somewhere else.
This is what they did. They rented a car. They lassoed metal and plastic samples to the bumper and drove around and around a parking lot, for hours. Eventually, a policeman stopped them, but by then they had their answer. The plastic was tough enough.
(This anecdote comes from Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die).
If that level of creativity feels impossible, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini’s Four Habits to Open Your Mind is a useful first step in training yourself to think differently.
And if that still feels too abstract, start small. I have.
I’ve applied George Saunders injunction “To refuse to do the crappo thing is to strike a de facto blow for quality…” to everyday activities.
Instead of having my car washed in the shopping centre’s grey basement, I took it to classic car specialists Crossley and Webb. While it was getting cleaned, I wandered around spending imaginary millions on all manner of automotive magic. Of course, I eventually climbed back into my trusty Volvo (my fourth, yes I am that guy) and the 911 Outlaw and Morgan Three-Wheeler faded back into budget realities, but for sixty precious minutes I was in my garage with my classic cars – a car wash transformed.
I did the same with my haircut. I typically walk into a shopping centre chain. I don’t need to plan; they always accommodate me, it’s convenient, it’s boring and I am always slightly irritated having to fend off repeated offers of all manner of hair potions, but again it’s convenient, so I keep going.
This time, I injected intention. I have been intrigued by Kitsune Hair’s whacky Insta account for months and so I booked. I had to wait a week to get an appointment, but hey I was thinking differently and avoiding banality, so I did what was needed.
My hair was cut in front of a bright pink art deco dresser by Yvette is a Unicorn whilst a toy Pomeranian patrolled the salon, giving customers an interrogative glare that would pause an Eagle Owl. Much better! The tattooed stylists triggered memories of Samantha Ford and Swasthik Iyengar’s work. My brain was abuzz with creativity instead of grumpy “no thank you’s”. Much, much better.
In short, I’ve been experimenting with what thinking differently could create. You can too. It’s easy and inspiring. I guarantee life will be better and you will start to think differently.
The festival of Lent started this week. It is associated with fasting.
Pope Francis’s Guide to Fasting has been making their way across the world. I’ve been unable to determine whether he actually wrote it, but it doesn’t really matter, the sentiment is powerful, and it fits our theme. They are a few fire-starters for our souls regardless of who their author is.
“Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.”
Each one reminds us that stopping creates space for creating.
If we pause, if we choose, we can think differently.
Have fun. I’d love to know what you try, so please do send me an email.
All the best
PS: About 18 months ago, I decided to close my Instagram account. I shared my decision with brand strategist Dr. Carla Enslin. She forbade it. I grumbled to digital strategist Tawela Ng’ambi. She gently pointed out that I had been inconsistent at best (coaches also need coaches). They both know way more than I do, so I did as I was told – I carried on and was more consistent. This week, I realised that I have shared more than 300 of my favourite quotations. Listening almost always improves our thinking. This is my favourite, which is yours?