The closed-door meeting was tense. The CEO made the situation crystal clear: A solution was needed quickly, and the group assembled was charged with developing workable ideas.
Sales were in drastic decline. The company’s market share was ebbing. Its flagship product, which had carried it for years, was no longer flying off the shelves, and the corporate war chest was getting lighter by the month.
The concerned CEO asked the attendees, “How are we going to fix the problem and get this company back on track?”
His question was met by silence. Everyone looked around the room, waiting for a sage answer to leave someone’s lips. Finally, a team member spoke up. Instead of tossing out a sure-fire solution, she asked the group a second question. And it began with the words, “What if.”
The scenario is fictional, but similar situations have played out thousands of times in corporate boardrooms.
Innovative breakthroughs occur by looking at various components of an organization and asking, “What if?” Being innovative means being inquisitive. Throughout history, the most creative minds have also been the ones that ask the most questions, never satisfied to accept things the way they appear to be.
One of my favorite stories that underscores this notion concerns horror writer Stephen King.
In the 1970s, King wanted to write an unconventional vampire story. So he did what any innovative thinker did and began his journey with the words, “What if.”
In King’s case, the question was, “What if a vampire was introduced into a small rural community?” The answer: It would get hungry and drink someone’s blood.
King’s thinking subsequently went like this: That someone would turn into a vampire, who would also require someone’s blood for sustenance. The scenario would repeat itself until eventually the town would be overrun by vampires. Anyone arriving in town would be fresh meat.
From this innovative thought process came King’s best-selling vampire novel,’ “’Salem’s Lot.”
Innovation doesn’t have to be painstakingly difficult. It can be accomplished by questioning the status quo and asking those two little words: What if?
And while the process probably won’t lead to the creation of a horror novel, it could take your company places you had never imagined.