Inside the Box

There are two ways to spark great leaps in creativity. One is to remove all constraints from the idea: Money is no object… assume you’ll have everything you need. The other is to put severe limitations on the concept: You can spend no more than $100 on the solution… it has to be operational in 24 hours.

I read this in A More Beautiful Question, the handbook of the design thinking movement and one of the very best books ever written on creativity and problem solving. If we’re being honest with one another, the first two decades of our business – with a couple of brief exceptions – has been a time of great abundance. There was always more money, more growth, more time, more resources, more inventory. Abundance took away the constraints. We all lived outside the box. And we invented things and reinvented careers.

Now we’re all living inside the box. The box on the Zoom screen. The box that’s your apartment or basement or den. The box on the calendar that represents the time you get to spend with your team today. The choice we face is very clear: we can watch the calendar and hope for a lifting of constraints… a life back on the outside of these boxes; or we can use them as incentive and inspiration to reinvent our practices, our team relationships, our connections with customers and – by extension – the business environment of the next quarter century.

The past two months have been the most profound, universal period of simultaneous behavioral change in the history of the human race. Never have so many changed so much so quickly and for so long. Do any of us really believe we just snap back to some slight iteration on the way it used to be? No, tomorrow will look a lot more like today than it resembles yesterday. Here are some of the design questions that will help us lean into reinvention:

  • If commuting to an office is eliminated or severely curtailed, how might we reinvent the structure of the workday so that it’s more supportive of families?
  • How might the restriction of conferences and office gatherings make us more intentional about the time we spend together remotely?
  • If the primary connection among our teams and customer communities is now via screen share, how does that enlarge the geographic talent pool and improve employee retention?
  • How might screen sharing technologies create new ways for us to include otherwise marginalized team members in conversation and create new levels of collaboration?

At the end of this stage there won’t be a return to normal or anything close: there will be a transition to a brand-new era. And none of us will ever say, I wish I’d waited longer to change.