In Wisconsin, the Republicans wanted to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of most public employees as a way of cutting the budget. This was hotly contested by the Democrats to the point where all 14 Democratic senators left the state, refusing to vote. They did this knowing that at least 20 senators needed to be present during votes authorizing the use of money. This meant that the Republicans would be one person shy of a quorum.
What was the Republican's creative solution?
They met in a committee to strip several financial elements of the bill and argued that the quorum rule no longer applied as a result. The bill then quickly passed and was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker.
This caught the self-exiled Democrats off guard.
What did the Republicans so skillfully do that made this coup d’état a reality? They were innovative about the way they achieved their objectives.
Typically, when we think about creativity, we tend to focus on the result: the new product, process, service or business model. But sometimes it is incredibly powerful to innovate the means in which you implement your solutions.
Another recent example of this involves the National Football League (NFL). The NFL owners and players have been in arbitration, trying to resolve disputes over how to split the $9 billion in annual income. When the collective bargaining agreement expired, the owners instituted a league-wide lockout. As a result, the players no longer had health insurance, were not paid, and were banned from entering any team facilities or having contact with any team staff.
What was the creative response of the players?
They "decertified" the players union (the NFLPA). By eliminating the union, the NFL was then considered a monopoly. This allowed the players to invoke the Sherman Act, a federal antitrust statute limiting monopolies, which paved the way for the players to file a class action lawsuit seeking triple the amount of damages they've incurred.
Change the rules of the game
I’m not making a statement for or against either side or the actions they took. Nor am I an attorney, so there may be subtleties of the laws that I am missing.
Regardless, in both of these cases, the parties involved recognized that they could “alter” the rules of the game. In doing so, they took actions that might have otherwise been unforeseen. The Republicans caught the Democrats off guard by removing the financial elements of the bill. And although this was expected, the NFL players took steps that allowed them to take legal action that was not previously allowed.
This is a powerful lesson for businesses of any size.
Although the imposed rules are external laws and regulations, the most dangerous ones are the result of internal bureaucracies.
What rules does your business have that is preventing you from doing what you want to do? Is there a way to change or work around these the rules?
Being part of any organization for an extended period can make us susceptible to the knee-jerk reaction of following the status quo. We often view the existing processes or procedures as “irrefutable laws.” This is often evidenced when someone mindlessly responds to the question, “Why is this done this way?” with “Because we always have,” or “Because it is our policy.”
Instead, identify assumptions and challenge the status.
How do you do this?
First, clearly define what you want to achieve and map out a path for reaching that desired outcome.
Then, if you hit a roadblock along the way, consider the following questions:
1. Is the roadblock real or perceived? Is there, in actuality, a formal policy in place that prevents you from achieving your goal? Or is it an informal rule that has been built by agreement over time. In other words, are you just doing what you have always done just because you have always been doing it? If so, then make up a new “rule.”
2. Is the roadblock in fact real? If it is, meaning there is a formal policy in place, determine if that policy can or should be changed. Business is continually in flux often making existing policies obsolete. This may provide an opening to rethink existing rules.
3. Can you change the policy? If you cannot change the policy, determine how you can creatively work within it while maintaining the “intention” of the rule. Don’t subvert the system by circumventing rules. Just be creative.
Change is most effective when you challenge assumptions and look for creative ways of achieving your objectives. Great ideas that aren’t implemented are useless. In other words, sometimes it is about innovating the journey and not just the destination.
Stephen Shapiro is the author of Personality Poker: The Playing Card Tool for Driving High Performance Teamwork and Innovation (Penguin Portfolio). You can read over 500 articles at SteveShapiro.com, play the free Personality Poker video game, or follow him on Twitter.