The business world is more competitive than ever. To build your own company or climb the corporate ladder you have to differentiate yourself from others. And to do that, you have to be able to think outside the box. It’s one of my big lessons I teach kids so they are encouraged to use their imaginations and find their own solutions to problems. But here’s the cautionary lesson in that old adage that we as adults tend to forget: watch out for the fine line between thinking outside the box and being just plain “out of mind.” What do I mean buy this? Well, many of the same people who have been characterized as having brilliant minds for thinking differently have also caused much harm to themselves and their companies by committing egregious acts. There’s a profound difference between egregious and different, but sometimes people confuse the two.
This came to light again this past week when a lifeguard helped save the life of a distressed swimmer. Instead of praising his heroism, however, the private company he worked for fired him for going beyond the boundaries of the area he was guarding to help the swimmer. Soon thereafter, two other lifeguards resigned in protest and the media was quick to vilify the company as well. Granted, this is an example of a small company doing wrong, but it’s so emblematic of what can happen in any size company. Some of the most powerful business leaders in the country are not immune to making inane decisions and saying callous things that send their corporate public relations firm rushing into “spin mode.”
In 2010, while millions of gallons of oil were pouring into the Gulf of Mexico due to an April 20th explosion on a BP oil rig, which caused eleven death, environmental catastrophes, and great financial hardships for thousands of people, then BP CEO Tony Hayward decided it was the perfect time to go on a vacation. When asked about his feelings during the crisis, Heyward thought it would be best if he cast himself as the victim and answered, “I just want my life back.” BP later announced Hayward would be relieved of his CEO duties. It is hard to imagine why.
In 2008, the CEOs of the Big Three automobile companies went to Washington D.C. to seek Congressional support to access billions of taxpayer bailout money. Brilliant minds think alike: To show Congress and the American people how careful they would be to cut costs and make sure they don’t foolishly spend money, each executive—Alan Mulally of Ford, Richard Wagoner of GM, and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler—had the same idea: fly into Washington on his own corporate jet. That prudent maneuver triggered Congressman Gary Ackerman to simply ask them: “Couldn’t you have downgraded to first class or jet-pooled or something to get here?”
It’s one thing to think differently in order to get ahead and accelerate your success. But it’s clearly another to lose your ability to act sensibly while retaining that same uniqueness. Perhaps the most brilliant minds of all belong to those who can:
1) Think DIFFERENTLY
2) Act smartly or even heroically when pressed to handle challenging situations and circumstances.
This definition actually calls to mind the old Apple slogan, “think different,” which accompanied the iconic Apple logo. Among the many symbols that apples connote is one for smartness. Steve Jobs (now there’s someone who thought outside the box “smartly”) knew what he was doing. Do you? And are you operating from a place that’s out-of-box or out of mind? Something to think about!