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Advice from Devils

Posted on   February 25, 2015 2:56 pm by  Shaun Mannix  No Comments

In my quest to continue to keep Transwall a step or two ahead in the demountable wall world I’m always alert for new ideas. We all hear about “out of the box” thinking and how it leads to new ideas which hopefully lead to better results. It always made sense to me but I found that getting people to leave their box was hard to do.

Last week I was invited to be a ‘Devil’ at the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum (GCP) ‘Devils Advocate’ day. It sounded like great fun so I spent a cold, gray Sunday in Philly. The GCP program finds global strategic marketing projects and then uses MBA and Executive MBA teams to work on these projects over six or seven months. It’s a great way for companies and NGOs to get exceptional advice for a modest fee while the students get to work with senior executives on a project of strategic importance to the future of their organization.

Devils Advocate occurs in about the middle of the project. Wharton gathers together a diverse collection of senior executives, most with extensive international experience, and turns them loose on the students.

Each project team of five Wharton and Five partner school members gets 20 minutes to share information about the project and then the Devils get 40 minutes to ask questions and offer advice, suggestions, and ideas for how the team can make the results even better.

The wild thing is that the projects cover all different industries, countries, and issues while the Devils have no knowledge about the projects except for the 20 minute overview. The 40 minutes of discussion is amazing. Ideas flow freely. Devils critique and offer advice based on their extensive experience.

I was fascinated. Here was a true example of “out of the box thinking.” Each team received a tremendous amount of information and suggestions. No doubt some of the ideas will turn out to be useless but some will lead the team to new places that turn out to improve the project recommendations.

As for me? I offered a few questions and ideas. But, with thoughts of Transwall’s future always somewhere in mind, mostly I contemplated what I heard, both from the team presentations and from the other Devils. I found myself daydreaming as to how new ideas are received at Transwall. Where are they embraced and nurtured, where might they be considered a distraction, or worse? More so, I noticed there wasn’t so much a lack of ideas. To the contrary, we heard many ideas. I also couldn’t help notice how quickly an idea came wrapped in someone’s personal experience. This often led to complex dialogue, which frankly, led to me getting lost…thus the daydreaming.

The takeaway? Listen, be open, be careful.

There are new ideas and the makings of good ideas everywhere. In a super-lean, fast-paced, distraction-filled world I am hyper-sensitive to bandwidth. Bandwidth inside the grey matter of myself, our people, and other stakeholders.

Meaning, even the best ideas are at risk of withering on the vine if they can’t be presented in the right context, to the right people, at the right time.

It seems that the role of leaders in an organization is to be aware of this critical role they can and should play; be the person in the tower, scanning the horizon and the field for changes, patterns, noises, flashes.  Note, compare, and contrast this steady flow of observations and somehow work it into a process where the seeds of great ideas don’t get ignored, or the opposite, get sucked into a sea of complexity.

Yes. One more things for leaders to do. But wow, how important is that?

Back at school it was clear that I came away from the day hungry for more. It was like a day at the mind-gym; interacting with a group of sharp, knowledgeable, experienced people, possessing little information about the specific project and thinking hard and throwing around great ideas. It’s an interesting way to expand your horizons, broaden your thinking, and get out of your company and industry box.

I highly recommended finding similar places to do the Devil’s work.

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