Thinking Out Of The Box
Written By: Larry Stevens
In a small Italian town, hundreds of years ago, a small business owner owed a large sum of money to a loan-shark. The loan-shark was a very old, unattractive looking guy that just so happened to fancy the business owner’s daughter. He decided to offer the businessman a deal that would completely wipe out the debt he owed him. However, the catch was that he would only wipe out the debt if he could marry the businessman’s daughter.
Needless to say, this proposal was met with a look of disgust.
The loan-shark said that he would place two pebbles into a bag, one white and one black.
The daughter would then have to reach into the bag and pick out a pebble. If it was black, the debt would be wiped, but the loan-shark would then marry her. If it was white, the debt would also be wiped, but the daughter wouldn’t have to marry the loan-shark.
Standing on a pebble-strewn path in the businessman’s garden, the loan-shark bent over and picked up two pebbles.
While he was picking them up, the daughter noticed that he’d picked up two black pebbles and placed them both into the bag. He then asked the daughter to reach into the bag and pick one.
The daughter naturally had three choices as to what she could have done:
- Refuse to pick a pebble from the bag.
- Take both pebbles out of the bag and expose the loan-shark for cheating.
- Pick a pebble from the bag fully well knowing it was black and sacrifice herself for her father’s freedom.
She drew out a pebble from the bag, and before looking at it ‘accidentally’ dropped it into the midst of the other pebbles. She said to the loan-shark, “OH, how clumsy of me. Never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.”
The pebble left in the bag is obviously black, and seeing as the loan-shark didn’t want to be exposed, he had to play along as if the pebble the daughter dropped was white and clear her father’s debt.
Moral of the Story:
It’s possible to overcome a tough situation through “out of the box thinking,” and not giving in to the ‘only options’ you think you have to pick from.
One of the most overused phrases in all of business conversation is, “We need to think outside of the box.” As popular and fashionable as it may be to inflict this phrase upon your co-workers or subordinates, it is neither easy to do, nor is it in reality done very often. Seldom do those in a business setting have the creativity or the courage to actually come up with solutions that reflect “out of the box thinking.” Notwithstanding how difficult it is and how seldom most of us have the creativity to pull it off. There are always risks in every company or industry for those who come up with solutions, answers, policies, procedures or practices that stray very far from conventional wisdom or predetermined norms.
When “outside the box” thinking is successfully employed in business and society, it has the capacity to produce marvelous and often disruptive results. Successful “out of the box” thinking has had the power to significantly change much of how our society functions in many, many ways. Consider two simple aspects of our lives that have been drastically altered as unique solutions have been applied to elements of business and leisure travel that have heretofore seemed to be unalterable.
We no longer say, “I’ll get a taxi and meet you there.” Now we say, “Let me get an Uber and I’ll be right there.” The advent of Uber and subsequent other customer centric methods of acquiring local transportation have significantly changed how we get around - for the better - due to “out of box thinking.” Someone thought of a better way to get from point A to point B without the inconvenience, expense and unpleasantness of riding in a cab. Imagine the disruption that has been inflicted in the centuries old taxi cab industry. Uber introduces a disruptive change; others follow with even more unique offerings and before you know it a whole new way of thinking about transportation options has evolved.
Think about how Air B&B and other direct booking alternatives have challenged the hotel industry. Today you can rent a comfortable luxury home in a quiet residential neighborhood with numerous amenities for a temporary short term stay for about the same price that you would pay for a very nice hotel room. This has created significant disruption in the lodging industry, and a wide range of possibilities for travelers, particularly as it relates to leisure travel.
These are only a few ways in which creative or out of the box approaches have totally revolutionized the way our society works. It has also put many of our long held and accepted ways of doing business in our society in grieve danger of going away completely. We’ll leave the debate about whether this is good or bad to another format. Suffice it to say, the power of creative, out of box thinking is a powerful force in shaping our society.
Out of the box, or disruptive thinking does not come naturally to organizations or individuals. It is risky to leave well-worn paths and go against conventional thinking. This type of thinking is most often applied to finding solutions to isolate problems, but (as noted above) often it has the power to bring significant change, improvement, and even disruption to large portions of society or entire industries.
At Med One we have often been faced with challenging situations. Often, we can deal with the situation by staying “safe” and utilizing tried and true solutions. However, it is not uncommon for us to have to stick our necks out and take a risk by choosing a course of action that doesn’t quite fit an accepted narrative. As I look back over our 28 year history as a company, I think that the things that are most memorable to me and that have made the experience of building a business most enjoyable have been the times that we have had to think “outside the box” to come up with solutions to problems or to address unique customer issues.
“At Med One we do one thing very well…whatever it takes” are two very powerful and empowering elements of the Med One culture which is embodied in never settling for the obvious solution and always looking for a way to get the job done."
In our business, we do strive for the economies of scale by developing sound processes and rational analysis which are meant to take care of most situations. We recognize that it is unwise and unprofitable to create a new solution or a new process for every different situation that comes along. But the one thing we value more than almost anything else is the relationship we have with our customers and the commitment we have made to serve them and to earn their loyalty. We have a high expectation that each of our employees will always personally project the value we place on each of our customer relationships.
Med One competes within an industry that is highly regulated, highly institutionalized, and the antithesis out of the box thinking. In fact, straying too far out of the box in our industry can often lead to dire consequences. However, we have been very successful in setting our selves apart in a business that has become commoditized and reduced by many to competing solely on price. We are at a disadvantage in many cases when it comes to competing only on price, because we don’t have access to funding in the same way that many of our larger competitors do. We have been forced to find ways to further distinguish ourselves beyond the question of pricing. We look for ways of structuring transactions that more closely fit the actual needs of our customers. This creates a much higher probability that we can win the transaction, because we have anticipated the roadblocks already facing the customer and tried to remove them proactively. In many cases, this challenges us to take on risks that we know others would never accept. After 28 years our track record in approaching our customer experience in this manner has been most satisfying, and very successful.
In our rental business, we place a very high premium on the quality and the appearance of the equipment we rent to our customers. We also place a high premium on responding to their needs quickly and efficiently. We are never comfortable with the fact that if we might not have a particular item of equipment near the customer’s location it should result in having to turn down business. We could cite many, many stories of how our employees have gone out of their way and worked extra hours in order to make a successful fulfillment of a customer’s request.
We are very proud of the culture that has been created by Med One’s devoted team members that always puts us in a customer centric position and demonstrates our willingness to never settle only for the obvious options that seem to be available. We are proud of how deeply this culture has been embedded in our organization and how it has made us successful as a company.
Our mission statement which is: “We make medical equipment available” and our motto which is: “At Med One we do one thing very well… whatever it takes” are two very powerful and empowering elements of the Med One culture which is embodied in never settling for the obvious solution and always looking for a way to get the job done. We never take lightly the challenge to truly serve our customers. This drives us every day.