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Forgetting What Works

 

Pretty much everyone will tell you that innovation is the key to long-term growth and prosperity in business. Hard to argue with that, right?

If you did a survey to discover what attitudes, skills and abilities people need to foster a
culture of innovation, the following themes are likely to emerge: creativity, openmindedness, uninhibited thinking, life-long learning, etc.

All great qualities, don’t you think? And probably all required, to some extent, to be an innovator. But there’s one skill that’s often overlooked. And it’s arguably the most important ingredient in innovation.

Forgetting.

Forgetting old ways, old paradigms, old thinking. Forgetting what has worked before.

Here’s the deal – you live in a box. In fact, we all do. Your individual box is the sum total of your beliefs, views and experiences. The box is your frame of reference. It defines how you see the world. It shapes virtually all of your thoughts and ideas.

It’s comfortable inside the box. And, unfortunately, sometimes dangerous. Why? Because sometimes the box can be a very limiting constraint on your thinking.

If an idea comes along that doesn’t conform to the way you’ve built your box, far too often your first instinct is to dig in your heels and resist. After resisting for a while, you might grudgingly try to fit the new idea into your box.

But what if the new idea won’t fit? Then what? It really depends on your ability to forget. If the new idea makes sense holistically, but only becomes a struggle to internalize when you try to cram it into your box, do you choose to abandon the idea as “infeasible” (as you see it from the confines of your box)? Or do you forget the old box and build a new one that can hold the new idea?

We think that the ability and willingness to forget is a core attitude that separates the truly great and original from the mediocre. And who wants to be mediocre?

If you look up the definition of “forget” in a dictionary, here’s what you’ll find:

  • To lose the remembrance of;
  • To let go from the memory;
  • To cease to have in mind;
  • Not to think of;
  • To cease from doing

If you study these definitions, you may come to a startling conclusion: they all describe the prerequisites for renewal and innovation – to shift from one paradigm to another.

Yet, do you hear much about forgetting? Do you list forgetting as a key skill on your resume? Does your alma mater offer a graduate course in Advanced Forgetting? Why not?

Think about it. Have you ever tried to get people to change their habits? Difficult, right?
Most folks cling to “what’s worked so far” like a baby sucking on a blanket. And can you
blame them? They’ve likely had no training in forgetting. They have no role models to
mimic.

Role models? Training in forgetting? Is this possible?

We think so.

First, most companies are well managed, but poorly led. Carefully watch and listen to the senior leadership team at your organization.

Do you hear them talk about leaving old ways behind, or are they more likely to say “things are fine, steady as she goes”?

Do you see them changing old business practices and policies?

Are they making hamburgers from the company’s sacred cows, completely reinventing the organization along the way?

Do they regularly visit other organizations (especially from outside your industry) to learn new ways and help them forget the old?

In short, are they forgetting?

And what about training? Can a person really be trained to forget? Well, maybe not directly but there are some things you can do to greatly improve your ability to forget.

Do you and your colleagues read books about innovation? Do you visit other companies? If so, how many are from outside your industry? What magazines do you subscribe to and read – the “tried and true” trade journals, or freaky publications like Fast Company and Business 2.0? What organizations (outside your company) do you belong to? What kind of people do you kick ideas around with?

Forgetting is fueled by learning and vice-versa. The more you learn, the more you can forget and the more you can forget, the more you’ll learn.

Should forgetting be a leadership concern? You bet. Study virtually all innovations and
you’ll see that the innovators all had one thing in common – they forgot how it (whatever “it” happened to be) was “supposed” to be done.

The retail supply chain has been “working pretty well” for decades now.

Making it run better, faster and cheaper – so much so that it becomes a competitive
advantage for your enterprise – will require some serious innovation.

The retailers who rise to the challenge will be the ones who get serious about forgetting
everything that’s worked well for them in the past.

So, have you forgotten anything lately?

 

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