Commentary & Analysis
The Power of Thinking Differently
by Guy Broadhurst April 25,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: April 25, 2006
by Guy Broadhurst April 25, 2006 -- A number of years ago I worked for a manufacturing company that sold a machine that was manufactured in three different places. One location served the North and South American markets, another Asia, and another Europe. The product was essentially identical in each market, but as I traveled to the different production facilities I found them to differ dramatically. Although several key components of the machine had to be assembled and tested according to strict criteria, the rest of the machine did not, so each facility did what worked for them. They all sought the same goal, but independently, differently. Most "different" ideas share one thing: they were sufficiently different to be revolutionary, or at least be a key change agent. This approach was driven by managers who led from the front--what I think of as "verified managers." These were leaders who challenged and encouraged their teams to come up with new ideas, in this case different assembly lines, alternative testing procedures, fresh approaches, and innovative thinking. The result was products that performed the way they were supposed to, but also highly efficient manufacturing operations that were ideally adapted to the skills of the people doing the work and how they worked best together. The different cultures present in each location gave rise to their own unique approach to building the product and came up with significantly different answers. None were necessarily better than another, just different, but they were the best solutions for each location. Thinking differently extends to many different products. The concept is even a tagline, courtesy of Steve Jobs of Apple Computer, who urges people to "Think Different" about computers, music and even how they watch videos. His approach sold uniqueness and individuality. Starbucks took a different approach to coffee and made its stores a destination for java aficionados and irrevocably changed the growing and selling of coffee. Starbucks sells image and lifestyle along side its Mochachinos. Michael Dell took a very different approach to building and selling computers that was a vital part of the widespread use of computers for work, play and communications. He made computers eminently affordable. Fred Smith, who started Federal Express, first described his different concept of package delivery in a grad school paper, only to be told the concept had to be feasible. The list goes on indefinitely, and most "different" ideas share one thing: they were sufficiently different to be revolutionary, or at least be a key change agent. But notice one thing. All these leaders and their products changed the status quo, or took a very different approach to an existing paradigm. One example of this in the printing industry is the approach Océ is taking with Job Appropriate Color, especially on the VarioStream 9000 family. While its ability to apply additional colors as needed runs contrary to the black-or-full-color approach offered by other digital press manufacturers, it has a direct parallel to one-, two- and three-color offset presses that have been used by commercial printers for decades. Most of which are still in use, profitably producing two or three color print jobs every day. These still exist because no one ever wants to pay more than they need to for anything. It's ingrained in human nature. Full color is still too expensive for many applications, so printers offer the option of one or two additional colors to make a document look more attractive but at a much lower cost than full color. So it is with the "different" approach we are taking with the VarioStream 9000. Even when fully evolved to print in full color, it will still be able to print black-only just as inexpensively as a traditional monochrome press, but will also be able to add whatever amount of color is necessary. This is effectively the digital equivalent of some offset presses that can be configured with additional towers or stations that provide added capability. There is nothing wrong with a standard or conventional approach, just that it is not the only approach. It is really just a matter of thinking differently. Of recognizing there is nothing wrong with a standard or conventional approach, just that it is not the only approach. Thinking differently about your business and how you can serve your markets or customers better requires that you be a committed and verified leader. It demands an open mind, and encouraging your teams to think differently. It means challenging what's been done before and looking at conventional approaches in new ways. As you do so, you can unleash the imaginations and creativity of people around you. Seek out their ideas, their energy. Engage their thinking and imagination. And never stop thinking differently.