Which one can do the impossible?

Doing impossible in desert

Can the Helicopter Leader see the impossible?

In a helicopter at 1,000 feet you’ll be able to clearly recognize what you’re looking at with the benefit of seeing a higher perspective.

From this perspective, you can elevate your thinking from the tactical day-to-day operations to a higher level. At this higher level

  • You expand your perspective to understand how the core essential elements of your business fit together and provide best value to customers.
  • You think in both abstract (higher level) and specific (lower level) terms.
  • You link the two together is a structure of business plans.  For some, this approach is ‘business as usual’; for others, with a more hands-on approach, it can take a little practice.

But can you see the impossible from the helicopter?

The helicopter has the disadvantage of an apparent “see it all”. Can you set “impossible goals” based on the perspective you have? Have you got it all-too mapped out?

Does the “On the Ground Leader” have the time to evaluate the impossible?

On the ground leaders:

  • are close to customers and the delivery team.
  • You have a daily pulse of the business and a sense of momentum building.
  • You are observant for the little nuances that can’t been seen at the helicopter view.
  • You can feel the emotions of the team

But do you have the time to stop the daily grind and look for the impossible?

The on the ground leader has the disadvantage of an apparent “feel it all” and the team’s sense of urgency. Can you stop thinking about tomorrow or this week and visualise “impossible goals”? Have you got the time?

“The impossible” can be done by either leadership style

Growth requires customers… or more services per customer, or both.

With either leadership style, there is an investment in time with customers.

If the customer is a helicopter leader, then the helicopter style of leadership connects and works the best to draw out the impossible challenges. Ditto for the on the ground leader. We all like working with people of a similar mindset. Its nearly tribal.

Do you agree?

I don’t disagree, but I suggest an alternative.
You have to flex to either style of leadership yourself to do the impossible.

Flexing from helicopter to ground and back

This is just practice in my view. Start doing this flex with customers. An easy way to do this is use the Edwards Demming approach “without the theory, experience will not teach”.

  • Start with the theory and test the practical experience.
  • Does the experience fit the theory?
  • Apply the logic in reverse. What will not fit the theory.
  • Which customers does the theory apply to ?

With these tools, you can approach a customer at the CEO level or the operational level and discuss solutions. You are flexing between the two levels.

Then move to the Team with Innovation

Tackle the deep problems you face with competitors and the market with a four step tool:

  1. What reduces hassles for customers (nearly all on the ground knowledge)
  2. What reduces costs in the broadest sense for customers (80% on the ground, 20% helicopter)
  3. What raises the bar in the industry you’re in (50% on the ground, 50% helicopter)
  4. What new and innovative features or products will be welcome (both on the ground and helicopter)

A common team dynamic is to get stuck on the “how”.

A good way to move from this is to acknowledge the challenge of “how”, but seek agreement on the “what” before tackling the “how”.

To tackle “the impossible”:

  • Practice grasping a new concept and apply translating it to practice and in reverse.
  • Practice searching for difficult practical experiences to translate into abstract concepts.
  • Practice taking time every so often to step back from what is happening on the ground to :
    • Ask ‘why’ questions to evaluate the activity in terms of its true purpose, value and desired outcomes; and
    • Ask ‘how’ questions to examine absolutely new methods, processes, resource and skills requirements.
    • And if you create a product by design (including a service), then what new materials or communication technology will impact the design?

Look for the big surprise in the desert that neither the helicopter nor the motorbike will easily see. This is your impossible task!

Bruce Loxton leads groups on innovation of products and services and “doing the impossible”. Read all his blogs on Innovation and tackling the impossible.

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Bruce Loxton

Bruce Loxton is often described as an “engineers, engineer”. His career has included mechanical, mining, electrical and chemical engineering. Combine his passion for data and automation with business sales and delivery teams for a great-digitized process. However, Bruce is a thinker on design, strategy and working in teams. He has achieved “impossible” projects over his career by targeting the big and the bold. Innovation seems to come naturally to the very structured thought process on problem solving and value. Bruce was Non-Executive Chairman of Qinetiq Australia for 6 years till 2017. Qinetiq is Global Defence Technology provider with a market cap of $1Bn & listed (QQ.L). He is an Alumnus of: Harvard Business School, USC in LA, and IMD in Lausanne. He is a former Council Member, Chem. Eng Foundation, Uni of Sydney.

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