Over the course of 30+ years in the marketing and advertising industries in the UK and USA I’ve been promoted many times, fired a few times, and had to fire more people than I would have liked. But here’s the thing about a potential firing. It focuses the mind. It stimulates the adrenalin. It forces lateral thinking. It is a catalyst for insane creativity.
Which is why, as a workshop facilitator who engages with companies across the globe in every industry you can imagine, and some you can’t, I frequently ask teams in the sessions I run to come up with at least one idea that they know will get them fired.
Which, as soon as the usual suspects of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll have been eliminated, is surprisingly hard for most people. At least in the context of business deliverables, marketing strategies or product and service development.
You see, for most of us, moving outside of the universe of tried, trusted and inherently safe ideas, plans and tactics is remarkably difficult. Years, decades and collective centuries of experience have trained us to think within the proverbial box. Because the box is warm, it’s comforting, it has thousands of stories to tell. And it’s where we are used to playing.
Which is why workshop facilitators like myself have to provide a catalyst to push people out of their comfort zones, and encourage them to walk close, very close, to the edge of the cliff.
As Manfred Mann’s Earth band said:
‘Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun,
But mama, that’s where the fun is ….”
And it’s true. That IS where the fun is. It’s not to be had in grey meeting rooms, in the annals of yesterday’s unused ideas or the corporate game of lowest-common-denominator dilution of ideas, where all vestiges of originality and spice are washed clean.
Great ideas burn. They have edge. They scare people. They make the meek want to run for cover, and they fill the strong with new courage, vigor and determination. They are to be found by staring over the edge of the cliff, and then taking a half step back.
Here’s an example. Recently I was running a workshop in Chicago for a group who specialize in providing the tools that allow large institutions to stay legally and fiscally compliant. Are you still awake? Hold on, it’s worth it.
After an hour illustrating a particular ideation and problem-solving technique, the twenty tables of 8 or so people were each asked to develop ideas to enable their discipline to move from the periphery of the business, to the head of the C-suite table.
And yes, I asked them to walk to the edge of the cliff, to take a good, long look over the edge, and tell me what they saw. To develop at least one idea that would, definitely, for 100% sure, get them fired.
After two rounds of ideation I’d heard 39 sets of ideas, few of which sparkled with Cannes-worthy creativity or Elon Musk like business brilliance, but all of which were good progressions. Until the last presentation, whose premise was simple:
A week without Compliance
A week in which anyone in the firm could publish anything they felt like, execute any trade, make any promise, commit to any contract … all without pesky regulatory software, protocols and systems stymieing them.
After the initial laughter wore off, I saw lightbulbs illuminate over table after table.
No, table #20 were not suggesting that all compliance tools and software were actually turned off; that would have been to walk over the edge of the cliff, not look over it. That would have got them fired.
Their half-step-back suggested that this premise be modeled in the assembled companies – with all the consequences played out. Consequences that would make the Fiat, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and FIFA scandals look like minor missteps. Consequences that would quickly turn ever company in the room into a scene from Lord of the Flies.
However, also consequences, when part of a modeling exercise set in todays highly regulated, scandal-shy world, that would get the attention of the C-suite - and a seat at the table. Mission accomplished.
Now, ask yourself. Would an idea like this have been developed using an iterative, safety-based brainstorming technique? It is highly unlikely. People have to be given the freedom to propose the blatantly ridiculous, completely illegal, morally compromised - in order to develop ground breaking ideas, which can then be walked back a little as needed. And that’s what this simple technique does.
So, next time you are getting stuck ideating, challenger yourselves and your team to develop that sure-fire ‘fireable’ idea. It may just contain the kernel of something truly brilliant. Something that could get you not fired, but promoted.