Leaders are challenged daily in finding ways to get their teams to think differently. Our organizations tend to fall into patterns that shape the products and services we create. And many times, we get complacent on the way we have always done it -- and we all have a hard time seeing other perspectives when we fall into a space of complacency.
This year, Apple CEO Tim Cook, head of the first company to reach a market value of a trillion dollars, gave Duke's University commencement speech. He shared a powerful message about thinking differently and being fearless. "The greatest challenge of life is knowing when to break with conventional wisdom," he said. "Don't just accept the world you inherit today. No big challenge has ever been solved and no lasting improvement has ever been achieved unless people dare to try something different. Dare to think different."
Growth strategies don't come from asking the same questions, so consider these six questions I often find myself asking to challenge your teams to think differently.
1. How can we reach our five-year goals in only one year?
Working with dozens of teams to think differently, I have challenged them with an unrealistic time frame. This is where creativity and innovation live. And the answers to this question will give you the most important projects and strategies to drive fast growth.
I use this question with my team to help us pick one major project to go all in on. Over the years, this has allowed us to focus on the right projects, not just doing more work.
2. What would we offer our market in three years if we can't sell what we do today?
This question requires your team to be customer-centric and think of the desires of the customers beyond what you offer today. It should reveal gaps in serving your customers and allow everyone to see the future. The answers will give insight to the changing dynamics of your market.
3. What would we do if we were fearless with our innovations this year?
Breaking from the status quo and creating something new requires courageous leadership. Courage is moving forward despite fear, letting go of the tendencies to hesitate to spend money on research or to use technology in new ways.
I used this question when working with Patrick Long, president of BizPAL, who works with home service companies to scale. Since then Long has made amazing progress on changing how home service providers can use Facebook in the recruiting process instead of the traditional online job boards.
This innovation to a market that historically has been slow to change has resulted in tremendous growth in revenue and added value for his clients. "Innovation is scary," he said. "It's neither comfortable nor easy. However, our commitment to innovation has produced tremendous results when traditional recruiting methods fail."
4. What part of our marketplace is most likely to be disrupted?
Looking beyond the direct market to the players who want to disrupt your market will help you see areas of future disruption. There could be a group of kids in a garage looking to automate, transform or make parts of your marketplace obsolete.
Challenge your teams to think of the areas that will be impacted first. You can discuss pertinent market indicators and what to do about them so that you are not surprised by the disruption.
5. What failure can we celebrate from this past year?
Failure is a part of growth. This question is about understanding how the chances you took that ended in failure became something powerful to the organization. Maybe it was something you learned about the market or technology that opened up new opportunities?
After selling his digital agency, Jason Swenk, a serial entrepreneur, struggled in finding the right market for his new business helping agencies position their companies for growth and acquisition. When working together, we talked about his strategy and defined a new approach. Looking back on the previous year, he was able to celebrate this failure because his new focus on helping digital agencies exploded in new opportunities took a big change in his mindset.
Now Swenk has helped over 25,000 agency owners all over the world in more than 42 countries and has made millions doing it. All this came from a massive failure he is able to celebrate now.
In his commencement speech, Cook went on share one of the key thoughts he learned from his friend and mentor, Steve Jobs: "Changing the world starts with following a vision -- not a path. From him, I learned to never be content with the way things are."
Let these questions guide you to a new conversation with your teams and allow them to think freely beyond incremental improvement. Thinking differently is not easy, but giving them permission to think beyond the now will open the doors to new opportunities to growth.