There are a dozen eggs in a carton. Twelve people each take a single egg, but there is one egg left in the carton. How is that possible?
While you’re mulling that one over, consider this:
A boat has a ladder that’s ten feet long, and hangs off the side of the boat, with its last two feet submerged in water. If the ocean tide rises five feet, how much of the ladder will be underwater?
The solutions, of course, are quite simple – and it isn’t just wordplay. The final person to take an egg also took the box, the egg remains in the box, in her hands.
The boat? Well, the ladder is still just two feet underwater (not seven!). As the ocean rises, so does the boat, leaving the same length of ladder submerged*
These are lessons in lateral, or ‘divergent’ thinking: generating creative ideas and solutions by exploring many possible options, viewing a problem from a number of perspectives, and integrating other frames-of-reference into the process. They’re inspired by Todd Sampson – Redesign my brain,
And they’re a good entry point into the discussions we should be having when it comes to the redesign and digitisation of business systems.
How we got here
Traditionally, enterprise systems grew from functional requirements across the business – a CRM database here, and ERP system there, data warehouses, customer support tools, supply chain management, marketing software, and so on…
As we realised we needed to connect these silos, we set up various integrations, automations, and invested in middleware and APIs. The result is sprawling enterprise technology landscapes, complex and expensive to maintain, and difficult to evolve, entrenched in traditional or legacy thinking.
To untangle ourselves from this and realise the promises that digitisation offers, it’s clear we cannot continue approaching technology in the same way. We need completely new thinking models – divergent, lateral thinking.
In practice, this means re-imagining our enterprise technology to become a platform that connects our businesses with broader ecosystems of customers, partners, suppliers and other stakeholders – ultimately building value-creating networks.
In thinking differently about IT, we’ll start thinking differently about our businesses in general. Consider sports apparel giant Nike, for instance. Nike’s metamorphosis has taken it from being purely product-focused, to becoming a digital platform player that enables developers to build health and fitness applications for smartphones and wearables, on its Nike+ platform.
Overcoming the barriers
So, what’s stopping us from taking a fresh look at things, and redesigning our businesses in the same dramatic manner as the likes of Nike, Apple or Starbucks?
The inhibitors to divergent thinking and radical innovation all seem to circle back to one term: ‘legacy’. It may be legacy people, legacy cultures, legacy thinking, or legacy systems.
Essentially, all these forms of legacy serve to sustain business as usual and maintain the status quo. Legacy dominates the thinking of accountants as they strive to ‘sweat the assets’, the compliance/governance team as they seek to de-risk the business, and the IT guys that believe ‘things simply work fine – like they always have’.
The consequences of blocking ourselves off from more creative approaches is the opportunity cost we incur. Preserving current business processes and systems can often mean passing up on new, yet-unknown, opportunities. It’s always tempting to fall back into our familiar rhythms, but in today’s era of rapid innovation, new thinking and more effective and efficient approaches is the only way to survive.
As business owners and managers, we need to be posing tough questions. It seems that when IT is asked to find a new solution, they seldom seem to find one that is simpler or inherently drives efficiency.
Could it be that technologists thrive on complexity? Is it a barrier to some secret club we’re not allowed to join? Is it how they simply protect the species?
If your business lacks agility and responsiveness, you’re probably seeing the effects of unnecessarily complex legacy systems, and toxic legacy thinking.
Brain Plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change – yes, we can shape our brains! The brain is similar to other muscles – if you don’t use it, you lose it. Both exercise and thinking can physically change our brains: whenever you learn something new you create new ‘wires’, or neural pathways.
Similarly digitisation requires new pathways and enhanced information shares that create value networks and delight customers with new experiences, better service, more convenience, improved loyalty and ultimately greater share of wallet.
Its not about technology, its about fresh connections, linking new information to new processes and opportunities to delight customers.