Grow Your Business: Overcoming Obstacles

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Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor. Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

What is the top obstacle preventing your business from growing? One company was faced with a significant problem that impacted the delivery of their primary revenue stream, so they called a meeting of some personnel in order to solve the problem...

In fact, it was not a meeting but a groupthink session that ended up solving the problem. Here's how author and syndicated columnist Harvey Mackay tells the story in his wonderfully unique style:

An electric utility in the northwestern U.S. had problems with ice building up on its power transmission lines during the winter. The company had to send linesmen out to climb the pylons that held the lines to clear off the ice and snow. It was difficult and dangerous work, especially as bears sometimes wandered close to the pylons as the linesmen were working.

One day a group of linemen got together for a brainstorming session, hoping to find a better and safer way to clear away the ice. One linesman mentioned that a bear had actually climbed a pylon after him once. That led to a humorous suggestion of placing honey pots at the top of the pylons to attract the bears. Then, as they tried to get to the honey, they would knock the snow and ice free.

Then an administrative assistant said, ‘'but we'd need to use helicopters to place the pots at the top of the pylons, and the vibrations would frighten the bears and chase them away.'

Eureka! The answer was right in front of them. Soon afterward, the company began sending helicopters up into the air - without honey pots - and using the vibrations and wind created by their motors and rotors to knock the ice down.

A casual comment had solved the problem. And that's the beauty of brainstorming.

Brainstorming sessions, also known as groupthink sessions, are so much more than just a meeting. They are called to overcome a particular obstacle. Traditionally, they are also facilitated by someone who assists the group by asking questions that result in the group solving problems or making decisions.

Sometimes these kinds of sessions result in a greater buy-in for the company because of the nature of their group think. In other words, it is group problem solving instead of one person determining how to solve a problem, then telling everyone else how to go about doing it.  

Is your business going through a "drought" of being unable to resolve the obstacles confronting it? Are you convinced there are thoughts and actions that could help to take your company to the next level in growth? Maybe groupthink is something you should consider.

 The concept of brainstorming was introduced by a man named Alex Osborn. He developed the concept about seventy years ago. The foundation of the brainstorming concept is collaboration, not isolation or independence. It is based on the development or evolution of new ideas to solve existing problems or develop new directions. It is not intended to devolve into a blaming session or gripe time.

According to author Julie Gilbert in a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review, there are three important questions that result in a favorable brainstorming or groupthink effort:

  • Have you ever really taken a step back and watched the dynamics in the room?
  • Do you truly have the right set-up and the right leadership to get the biggest problems solved?
  • Are you really opening up a dialogue, or are you somehow ensuring that the same people that always talk are still talking - while others are remaining silent, sitting on ideas that could blow open the industry?

If you are only hearing from the same people, those that feel safe speaking, you are not going to likely create or innovate much of anything. You do not have a culture or an environment where everyone gets their ideas on the table. And, even worse, those individuals that are remaining quiet are likely sitting on the very best ideas. Just like the earlier story of the utility company.

Consider creating a diverse team. Members could even be from outside the company. Think about crossing departmental lines. Ask people who are not necessarily in positions of authority. Appoint someone who has a lot of seniority, as well as someone who is relatively new. Use different age groups.

Give proper consideration to selecting a good facilitator for the sessions and finally, select people who can become passionate champions for growing your business by overcoming the obstacle being faced.

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