Leaders Library: Thinking Outside the Box Can Be Truly Powerful

My twin daughters recently graduated from 8th grade. In the Chiaradonna family, we have a tradition that every major educational milestone is marked by a family dinner at one of our favorite restaurants with aunts, uncles and cousins. Each attendee writes a speech to celebrate the individual who has achieved the milestone.

So on the most recent occasion, both of my daughters were honored. I found it interesting that everyone said the same thing about my daughter, Ellie. “Ellie is very stylish and is always pushing the limits.” She will start businesses because she believes in something, cuts shirts to make them more fashionable, and is willing to break the rules or at least push as hard as she can to follow her passion. Maybe my son said it best in his speech to Ellie when he said “you are willing to think outside the box and I admire you for that.”

As a parent and a leader sometimes it’s frustrating to have someone who thinks outside the box and pushes the limits. It can be challenging to manage them and manage the wake they may leave behind. But nevertheless, they do tend to make you stop and think. They make you question why things work the way they do? Are these behaviors right or wrong?

They make you wonder who is really “outside the box?”

Be like Ellie … fearless with ideas
A few years ago, I was working on a paper for an organizational behavior class I was taking. As part of the class I had to do some research on talent management and HR and I stumbled on a manifesto written by Netflix. The manifesto was about how to build a culture on trust and responsibility. I was truly inspired by it and have been attempting to adopt many of the ideas on my own team.

So recently, when Patty McCord (who served as Netflix’s chief talent officer) released her book Powerful I recommended it to our book club at work. This week the book club got together to share and talk about the ideas. It was clear from our discussions that the book struck a powerful chord with everyone. Each of us was inspired by the early ideas in the book, but several questioned could you really implement the things she was suggesting. Some of the ideas seemed farfetched. 

It was such a wonderful discussion. After all, who doesn’t love inspiration integrated with skepticism. It made me think of my daughter Ellie and the things that were said about her at the graduation dinner. When she has an idea, she is fearless. She focuses and draws her energy from the idea. She doesn’t think about her idea in the context of what is, but she thinks about what could be. Better said—she thinks outside the box.

Culture is your powerhouse
I think Patty McCord is on to something. Her ideas may appear rebellious at first glance. But I dare you to read the book and think about your own experiences as a professional—you’ll find yourself smiling and saying to yourself, “OMG, she is so right!”

The heart of the book is about culture, the social fabric of your business. Culture is how your business works and operates. McCord is asking us to question what a business culture should look like in the 21st century. The book is also about change—big (sometimes scary), dramatic change. Her perspective on HR and what needs to change is very refreshing.

She centers her ideas on a core concept of freedom and responsibility. Basically, trust the people you hire to be a professional and act like an adult. Don’t burden them with the processes of monitoring and oversight. She recommends that things like vacation policies and personal time off be removed from an official policy, replaced instead with trusting your employees to do the right thing.

McCord connects people not through rules and policies but through understanding and contribution. She suggests we make sure all people understand the business, how the organization makes money, focus their energy on contributing to the organization, and therefore, their own personal success. With this as a backdrop, she begins to question many things we take for granted as it relates to HR. She asks us to think about what business value certain processes create, such as performance reviews, performance improvement plans, etc.

Question norms, hear new perspectives
You may not agree with everything she has to say but don’t react without reading the book first. I think if nothing else, McCord makes you think. You may not land on her exact answers, but refreshing perspective can cause all sorts of inspirational thinking and change. My advice to you is read the book—see where it leads you.

This is a book that will cause you to stop and ask why. It will put you outside the box. Treat the book like I treat my daughter. Her desire to push limits makes me feel uncomfortable, but I don’t want to crush her dreams. So I listen and think before I react. The truth is, a lot of times I learn something from Ellie. And I learned a lot from Patty McCord and my colleagues who participated in our book club. To all of them, I say thanks for keeping it interesting!

If you read the book, let me know what you think. I would love to broaden the conversation.