Making [more] sense of ‘thinking outside the box’

Making [more] sense of ‘thinking outside the box

‘Hiring a COO is an opportunity to challenge organisational inertia: to think differently and creatively about processes and systems and to ask important questions about why things are done a certain way’. This is a quotation taken from a recent article in the The Times Raconteur, ‘What will the COO of the future look like?’

Organisations experience novelty, either when their activities have resulted in them facing situations for which they were not prepared and had little or no experience, or because external events have forced them into the same space. Either way, in such situations, leaders need to:

  • not make matters worse by guessing and
  • ‘perch’ and focus on what is actually happening, rather than what they think should be happening. 

Easy to say in retrospect; more demanding whilst an organisation’s tectonic plates are colliding out of control.

The problem, therefore, for COOs, and indeed the rest of the C suite, is both thinking outside of the box and having the requisite variety to resist trying to fit a square ‘box’ into a round ‘hole’, driven by an urgent need to change … but often based on mistaken assumptions. This is a persistent risk for those leading in environments replete with high complexity, short time spans and too much novelty. This is explained in more detail here.

The situation worsens because people have a natural tendency, when considering unfolding events, to over credit the past and superimpose previous meaning and thus decision-making onto present situations (the square box/round hole conundrum). In fast-moving situations, this can quickly get organisations into deep trouble, where not only have actors failed to think outside the box, they have forced redundant meaning (and therefore actions) onto fundamentally different situations.

So, more verifiably, COOs have to be confident that they really know what the story is before they make decisions and take actions. In this sense, the aphorism ‘thinking outside the box’ needs to be applied not so much to what they are looking at but, rather, how they are looking at it. This is why Organisational Sensemaking is widely used as the research methodology for the investigation of major disasters and events in which social action has either created the disaster or made it worse.

However, the quality of Organisational Sensemaking is the critical determining factor for the success of all organisations faced with new scenarios, not purely those engaged in life threatening situations. The better the sensemaking processes, the better the decision-making and the better the outcomes.

From a COO’s perspective, better collaboration tools are required that can help frame their decisions with the best possible information, arrived at plausibly and quickly, with reduced ambiguity. If ever there was a point in time for the power of technology to prove its value to COOs who face a ‘perfect storm’ of decision-taking, it is now. Nothing else will meet the needs of the time, or indeed the unique circumstances.

See a short demonstration of how we can help.

Photo by Fabian Wiktor