When we went to the FMI leadership academy, on the very first day they split you into small groups of about 6 people. Each group sets out to go through a set of exercises designed to teach you different lessons about leadership. You are assigned one of the FMI staff for your group and they lead you to an area, select one of your group to be the leader, give that person some instructions and then have them lead you through an exercise.
It’s been 10 years since I attended these classes but there is one exercise in particular that I keep coming back to. This was the rope exercise.
It was an early morning, cold and fresh at 8,000 feet in the rocky mountains where FMI holds their classes. Our group arrived at a sand pit with a rope across the center. We were given a long length of rope and told: Try to pass the ends of this rope over the rope in the sand as many times as you can in 10 seconds. So, one of our team grabbed the ends of the rope and as the FMI coach hit the timer, he waved them back and forth across the rope in the sand as many times as he could. 35. Then each of us tried it. 36, 40, 42! We were getting better.
Our coach asked: “So, is that about your maximum?” And we told him, yes, to some degree. We tried a few more things but in the end our best number was 45.
So then our coach asked us: “So, your best is 45. What if I told you that the record for this exercise is 2,500?” We just looked at him. There was no way we were getting to 2,500 the way we were doing the exercise. So we started thinking and one person asked: “What do you mean by the ‘ends of the rope’?” “What do you think I mean” came the reply. So, we coiled the rope back and forth to create a bunch of ends. Now, when we passed it over the rope in the sand we were making excellent progress. I think we ended up at about 2,000 when we finished.
Einstein once said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. In a lot of cases in life, we use incremental thinking. So for instance, we might want to improve how long it takes to enter the timecards in our office (this is a real life example from my office). The first thing we think of is trying to make the timecards more legible, making the data entry program have less clicks, etc… So this is incremental thinking. Not changing our thinking but just looking at what we are doing and doing it better. In our rope exercise, this might get you from 40 to 45. But what if I told you that some companies (like ours) don’t have to enter timecards at all? Now you have to use different thinking. You aren’t trying to go from 40 to 45, but from 40 to 2,500. Now what? You start looking at the problem differently.
This, to me, is a revolutionary thought. I come back to this idea time and time again. It has helped us to change our thinking many times and since our entire leadership team went through the same training, it is something that everyone identifies with. We will be looking at a problem and someone will say: “Hey, this is like the rope exercise” and suddenly we all start looking at the problem from a different perspective.
Hope this gives you some food for thought. Have a great week!