Lateral Thinking, Horizontal Research?

Proven Ways to drive Innovation

Is hierarchical thinking stifling invention?

Frequently, I find myself working with clients after they have just completed a review with one or another of the high-profile consulting firms. These clients come to me asking – “Please provide us with some practical advice – what we got from the review was good, it has told us what isn’t working, and what the ideal looks like. However, where do we actually begin, how do we start the solution journey?”. They are stuck in their own paradigm and unable to gain momentum.
The way most business is currently structured, within some form of hierarchy, is very much a part of the problem. A business hierarchy separates the people with the information from those who make the decisions, and the people who make the decisions from those who implement them. This compounds the misconception of “I’m perfect… it is your area that needs to change” because throughout most companies lack of information will default teams to assume they are doing OK rather than knowing their area is doing badly.
Deep rooted hierarchical thinking prevents business owners and executives from looking outside their hierarchy for alternative solutions; instead they delve deep into the well of their existing industry know-how with the aim of REPLICATING “best practice”.
Let me reiterate; replicating best practice is not innovation, nor will it make you a market leader, or put you at the head of the curve.

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Successful innovation and change always come from using new perspectives and engaging differently.

Whilst deep subject matter knowledge is critical in some circumstances, a whole of business review against an unrelated industry can be equally effective.

Horizontal Thinking applies cross-industry, and cross departmental experience

Looking at what others do, taking already proven solutions, and applying them elsewhere leads to innovative, and profitable, breakthroughs. Importantly, being open to investigating outside the box and adapting learnings and knowledge accordingly can create new benchmarks rather than adjusting the existing bar of best practice.
Businesses that do this are drivers of their market and at forefront of business as a whole; they are operating in the purest form of market leadership.
I was again reminded of Horizontal Thinking by Dharmesh Shah (Founder and CTO at HubSpot) in his musings this week. I share this link, not for the article, (although that is, as always, interesting) but for the slideshow near the bottom. The presentation outlines Hubspot’s employment ethos. This approach to running a company is bold, I don’t agree with all of it, and they admit they don’t always achieve all of it, but the ethos itself is so challenging that it sets a standard for every Hubspotter to think and act broadly to resolve issues, whether the issues is customer related or internally related.
My favourite part was the fact Hubspot “refactor” frequently as explained below:(slides 116 – 118):

  1. Pull out unused features
  2. Remove unnecessary rules
  3. Stop generating useless reports
  4. Automate manual processes
  5. Cancel unproductive meetings
  6. Prune extraneous process

To honestly work through this list every year would be a great benefit to most companies, it would drive horizontal leadership and lateral thinking and break-down hierarchies, moving businesses towards greater levels of maturity.

How can you expand you thinking “sideways”?