In Mumbai, there is a group that runs a one of its kind ‘insurance’ service for ticket-less travel on local trains. Now, considering that millions of passengers travel in these locals everyday, the probability of getting caught is quite less. This is how their ‘business model’ operates. The traveler pays a very small monthly fees to this group. It is about 1/10th the going rate for a monthly railway pass. This way the traveler never buys a ticket and audaciously keeps traveling in the trains. If he somehow gets caught, he does not argue. He casually pays the fine, goes to his agent, hands over the receipt and simply get reimbursed. A clear win-win situation. Except the Indian Railways of course!
The above example epitomizes the underlying spirit of much widely used jargon ‘Out of the Box Thinking’. Obviously, I am not of the view that merely business graduates from esteemed B-Schools have the ability to think out of the box. Because there are loads of people who, without any formal education or an MBA degree have performed wonders by using their imagination and creativity. For instance, Srinivasa Ramanujan (A self-taught genius mathematician), Michael Faraday (An uneducated guy who revolutionized our understanding of electricity), William Hershel (A musician who discovered the planet Uranus) and not to forget Donald G. Harden (A simple high-school teacher who cracked the notorious Zodiac killer code).
In fact, I wish to throw some light on how MBA education actually helps students think unconventionally. For decades “thinking outside the box” has become the buzzword of the corporate world. Consequently, there is greater need than ever for employees who can direct their in that direction. Even for a working person, sometimes a change in perspective is all you need to make big changes within your existing professional career and an MBA can help you do just that. Because its curriculum has also been designed in such a way which somehow compels people to think big.
What is the BOX?
The BOX is the combination of all your past experiences (good or bad)and old-school wisdom. Since the box is nothing but your learning from your own successes and failures, coming out of is virtually impossible without external. This external help may come from attending seminars, reading about new ideas or networking. A standard B-School serves as a One-Stop-Shop as it provides all of these under one roof.
In some cases, this sort of problem solving technique could end up becoming the spark that ends up creating a business that flourishes, or it could be the tool that is used to save a failing venture. In the end, it is a valuable asset that not everyone is born with, but it is a skill most people can fine tune over time and this is where an MBA can really come in handy.
MBA and Start-Ups:
I am not saying that you need an MBA to start a new company. But what most people don’t know is how to utilize their entire MBA experience in shaping a new business concept and actually firing it off the ground. At the highly reputed Stanford Business School, a whopping 18% of this years class opted for the more adventurous route of entrepreneurship. Considering that start-ups usually demand substantially more innovation and lateral thinking, this only proves that the somewhat modified education program is now encouraging students for take the tougher route.
The course intentionally puts you through several exercises to get you thinking beyond the box. The 9-dots puzzle (where you have to connect all nine dots using just four straight lines without lifting their pencils from the page), for example, has become a metaphor for creativity in B-Schools word-wide. Moreover, the case-study analysis helps students learn from other people’s mistakes and think of unique solutions by not just limiting their thoughts to theories like Porter’s five forces analysis or BCG’s growth-share matrix.
Sometimes, during MBA, we were asked to think of a business idea and a draw a business model in the next 20 minutes. At first instance, the task seemed mammoth and virtually impossible. But surprisingly 20 minutes later, we got a bizarre blend of unusual and insanely innovative business ideas. Some of which I still remember.
In the very next class, the same professor gave us a few constraints within which new business ideas had to be though of. This made the same exercise narrower. Performance of majority of the students improved drastically while a few others fell flat. Others who were caught up with their previous business idea couldn’t get rid of the hangover. It perhaps implies that most of the most managers and business owners are quite capable of thinking and solving problems effectively within the imaginary box. They are used to living with constraints all the time and rather enjoy them. They automatically explore multifarious solutions to a particular problem by generating loads of good ideas.
But what about those who failed in the second test? Are they not good enough? I beg to differ. I believe putting constraints and defining parameters limited their ability to think beyond the box. There are different kinds of people. Some people need a great deal of creative freedom to excel. And if somehow, they find the right business idea and the courage to implement it in the real world, then in my opinion these are the very people you would probably see in business magazines cover pages. But even they need a platform to develop their ideas and hone their skills. To technically equip and align themselves with the contemporary world of business. MBA provides them with that platform and give them the much needed head start in the fiercely competitive blue-collar world.
Thinking outside the box does not necessarily means re-inventing the wheel. Instead, re-designing the wheel may involve similar or sometimes greater amount of creativity and imagination than the original invention. Even an existing product or service can be improved by analyzing the current market scenario. Did you know the films Titanic, Ocean’s 11, Heat and Scarface were actually remakes of earlier blockbusters but these remakes went on to critically and commercially overshadow their predecessors by a great extent?
Before signing off, let me recount an inspirational anecdote based on a true event. A project team at NASA was once asked to reduce the weight of a rocket by 1500 pounds. They were able to somehow come up with ideas to shed off 700 lbs off it. But they couldn’t find a way to reduce the total weight by another 800 lbs. One of the junior engineers of the team suggested that they should not paint the rocket at all. It didn’t seem like a valuable idea at first. But upon further evaluation, the team calculated that 200 gallons of rocket-paint weighed just a little more than 800 pounds. Bingo! The problem was solved. That’s ‘Out of the Box Thinking’ for you!
Contributed by Pranshu Awasthi ( Class of 2007, IBS GURGAON )