Thinking ‘Out of Four Walls’

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I had coffee with a frequent CustomerThink contributor recently and one of the topics we discussed was the impact of location on a group’s ability to innovate. At the time we spoke about getting people to think in new ways by getting people to think in new places. That is to say that if you always meet in the same places to try and be creative as a team, don’t you ultimately get the same types of thinking? In other words, do you hit a creativity plateau by meeting in the same places all the time? I believe we ended up agreeing that this is the case.

That of course is part of the reason that companies have off-sites, but I would argue further that the “same places” includes the typical locations for off-sites. I would argue that if you are trying to get people to think differently that you have to take people to an unusual, unexpected location. I would argue that you announce one location for the meeting that you have no intention of going to, get everybody to assemble there, and then go somewhere else. What this achieves is that in the time leading up to the meeting people start preparing mentally for what to expect and how things will go, but then when they show up and you announce you are going somewhere else, you will generate buzz and excitement, the walls of expectation will come tumbling down and you will get people to begin thinking in a different way than they were prepared to think.

That is only half the battle though. My next recommendation would be to pre-arrange for people to bring portable seating with them or bring it for everyone yourself. Then if you are trying to get new thinking, get radical but relevant. For the approach I am to suggest, you must keep the groups small, tailored to the venue you select (you don’t want to be asked to leave, or at least not too quickly).

For example, salespeople for BestBuy who are trying to figure out how to do things differently might go meet in an auto dealership, or a Nordstrom’s, or a 7-eleven. Find a place out of the way and start your meeting. If asked to leave, have your meeting on the sidewalk outside or in the parking lot (going back inside as needed). The site you choose should be related to your business but not directly related – notice Circuit City was not an example.

The site could also however be related to your topic. A meeting to talk about how to better understand what customers want could be held at a busy intersection with stop lights in case you wanted to ask real people what they think. Just please make sure to be careful and not get yourself run over when trying to ask people questions(stay on the sidewalk).

If you meet at someone else’s business, please try to choose a slow time of day and stay off to the side and out of the way. If you’re looking for more “natural” thinking, then meeting in the woods, by a river, or on a hill can also be good. Regardless of where you choose to meet, just be sure to debrief at the site, or literally just outside your own building before returning to work.

If you try this approach to uncovering new thinking I think you will be pleasantly surprised, and I would love it if you send in your stories and photographs of different unusual places you meet and what the topic for the meeting was. I look forward to seeing your “Out of Four Walls” thinking!

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