C-Suite Advisory

Thinking “Without the Box” – The RETINA Perspective

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Due to the turbulence in international financial markets over the last decade, there has been a massive shift in global business. The business terrain now requires business people all over the world to have abilities which enable them to manage the changes and requirements of contemporary business. These requirements include the need to build a large number of new businesses and also the need to achieve substantial growth for existing ones. In the present climate of shrinking margins, increased workload, social pressure and rapid technological advancement, new levels of thinking and unusual perspectives are required to cope.

Henry Ford once said “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it”. Obtaining the ability to takeoff against the wind however requires a new way of thinking.

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In this regard, thinking outside the box is a popular catchphrase of management and business practitioners which is used to typify thinking without limitations. However, for you as a business leader in the present challenging business environment, simply thinking outside the box could just be an old cliché and might no longer be adequate for dealing with practical issues.

Reason for this is that the box or limitation still exists and you are only thinking on the outside of it. Your accommodating for the existence of the box still constitutes a limitation and distraction because the box is still there. You will rather need to think ‘without the box’ to be completely free of any limitations and become open to the infinite possibilities for innovation that will be required in your business or life situation. To help with the more practical process of thinking ‘without the box’, I have developed the five-step RETINA framework which helps you to see limitations from another perspective. It is unpacked as follows:

‘RE’ – RECOGNIZE: The use of the RETINA framework starts with recognizing that there is a limitation or box that could prevent the attainment of business objectives. This is a very important initial step as sometimes the box can be obvious and sometimes it may be abstract or in the background. Whichever way, it is necessary to consciously recognize what box is exactly.

‘E’ –   ELIMINATE: After recognition, it is then imperative to eliminate the box all together so it ceases to exist or stand as a distraction. This is mainly a mindset shift to see the situation from another perspective where the box ceases to exist.

‘T’ –   THINK AGAIN: Now that there is no longer a limiting box, a fresh thinking exercise can done to come up with practical options for attaining your goals.

‘IN’ – INNOVATE: After thinking through the possible solutions, this is where the innovation process then needs to be applied to creatively arrive at the best possible solution.

‘A’ –    ACT: Finally, the last important step is to then act on the innovative solution and implement it towards achieving your purpose.

Applying the RETINA framework to a real life example, I will consider here the real life case of a soap manufacturer who faced a very challenging problem. In this situation, this soap manufacturer in a developing economy had just developed a unique soap product which was gaining popularity in his market. He however realised that his business was operating in a tough business terrain with a severe infrastructural problem concerning national electricity supply which was limited and erratic.

So in applying RETINA to this example, (‘R’) is recognizing the box of electrical power which would seriously hamper the business if insufficient. In such a bizarre and challenging situation the manufacturer had to come up with a very practical solution to save his new and fledging business. Thinking outside of the box would have simply meant that the manufacturer should go ahead and buy a back-up generator to supply electricity.

However at that time he could not afford one so this meant that just thinking outside the box would not be sufficient. He would have to think ‘without the box’ and eliminate (‘E’) the box of using electrical power completely. This was actually what the manufacturer did and he had to think again (‘T) through various alternative solutions which could allow him to produce without electrical power. So he innovated (I) by reformulating of his soap and redesigning his production equipment to come up with a mechanical pulley system.

This allowed the application of easy manual effort to the soap production machines and eliminated the need for electrical power completely. He then acted (‘A) by going ahead to fabricate the new manual machines and integrate these into his production process. So effectively the manufacturer no longer needed public or private electricity supply and continued to operate successfully. He had in effect been thinking ‘without’ the box.

There are other examples of thinking without the box. For instance, Newlight Technologies in USA has just developed a carbon-capture and plastics manufacturing technology that converts air and greenhouse gas into plastics. They have effectively eliminated the ‘box’ of the age old oil-based plastics. Another example is HiBot technologies of Japan. They have recently developed very unusual and high level automated robotics some of which are in animal or reptile form like their snake robot technology.

The adaptability of their robotics eliminates the ‘box’ of limited applications. The robotics which are controlled by remote human operators, are able to safely perform jobs which are dangerous to humans like pipeline inspections or nuclear power plant interventions.  As seen in these cases, there will always abound many instances where the ‘box’ can be an issue that requires a practical solution.

In this regard, the RETINA process becomes very effective for first identifying properly what the box or limitation actually is in your business situation. Reason is that the box or limitation might not be what you assume it to be and it could be something else entirely. In fact in some situations, the box might not even appear to be a limitation, whereas it actually is. So a lot of careful consideration will need to be given to recognizing the box and it would help to first get all the information that you can about the box so you can properly recognize what place it is occupying. Furthermore, after recognizing what the box is, another challenge to look out for is actually taking steps to eliminate the box in your mind and from your business system.

This is easier said than done as the box could be an integral part of your business system and it could upset comfort zones. To help with the ‘box’ elimination process,  you could do a comparison of what advantages or competencies you stand to lose and what advantages or competences you stand to gain if the box were not there. Then on this basis you can take your decision.

It is important that the hurdle of eliminating the box be surmounted so you can move on to really thinking again about other options, innovating and then taking the required action. So the RETINA process is a powerful tool which can be used to see business challenges from another perspective and then be efficiently applied to the practical concept of ‘thinking without the box’.

David Oludotun Fasanya is the author of ‘Way of the Junglepreneur: Art of Succeeding and Surviving in Tough Business Terrains’. He is an expert in organizational development and international business and has over 20 years experience in successfully co-founding or managing diverse businesses. He is presently the Chief Terrain Officer at Junglepreneur.com and also functions as a consultant, speaker and executive coach.

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