A colleague shared with me today a transcript from a Harvard Business School podcast1 that shared an example of how “thinking out of the box” improved an outcome.
Georgia State University had traditionally experienced low graduation rates. One faculty implemented a suggestion from a colleague he knew from their MBA program that was very innovative. The suggestion was to let the students, in a operations research class, investigate the issues with retention and suggest ways to improve.
The faculty member at GSU is Professor Mike Toffel and his colleague is Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative fellow Robin Mendelson. The students identified a number of areas that were roadblocks to student success, from having to produce vaccine records to students being dropped from GSA’s rolls if they owed money to the university. The university was able to address these roadblocks in creative ways which has significantly improved retention and graduation rates.
The concept of “out of the box” thought is thinking about an issue from a new perspective. Toffel and Mendelson leveraged Mendelson’s experience working with Amazon to improve customer satisfaction rates. Amazon has a culture of customer focus. They focus on operational excellence and base their decisions on data. Their culture is also highly innovative.
Mendelson took the Amazon perspective towards customer satisfaction and recognized that the issues with student retention and success at Georgia State could be addressed from an operational excellence and process approach. Through collaboration with Toffel, they launched the student project in Toffel’s “Technology and Operations Management” class. Through the findings of the students in that class, Georgia State was able to identify and address those processes that were impeding student success.
We don’t all have the opportunity regularly to make groundbreaking changes like Mendelson and Toffel did, however, we can make changes that help us in our day-to-day work environment.
Remember, we are just talking about changing perspective.
Have you ever gotten stuck on an assignment, and found that you were filling your time doing the less important small tasks because you didn’t know how to go forward on the one you had to complete? I know it has happened to me. So, how do you change your perspective? It’s easier that you would expect. Try these approaches:
- Change your environment. Sometimes just a physical change of location will be what is needed to get a different thought process happening. Take your laptop and go sit outside and see what happens!
- Engage another person. Seek out an opportunity to further develop a work relationship by approaching some you respect that has time to help you get unstuck. Don’t waste their time by complaining, leverage their time by asking how they would approach the task and LISTEN TO THEM! This doesn’t commit you to doing it their way, but it might just give you a different enough way of thinking about the problem to remove your roadblock.
- Take a walk. Engaging in exercise increases creative thought. A recent study2 verified this by testing subjects in their usual routines, not just in a laboratory setting.
So, when you are stuck, recognize that you are stuck and then take an active approach for getting unstuck. Remember that completing a task brings its own reward of a feeling of satisfaction.