Posted by: kevinliebl | July 11, 2010

Scratch Your Head and Question Everything!

Question EverythingI have written a number of blogs on how repetitive routines can kill creativity and productivity (e.g., Have we become corporate zombies).  The problem occurs when we create routines to drive efficiency.  By definition, we focus on speed and output and we stop trying to be creative.  We fall into a drab routine and stop asking questions.

Driving home from work the other day, I heard a comedian on the radio who asked, “Am I the only person on this earth that thinks the lullaby song was written by a sick and twisted individual?”

Rock-a-bye, baby
In the treetop
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all

Is this really the story we should be telling children before they fall asleep?  However, every parent has sung this song to their child and then said, “sleep tight sweetheart” and tucked them into bed.  Why are we surprised that they have nightmares?

Unfortunately, we are taught to go through life following the rules and not asking questions.  This translates into our business life and we continue to implement processes the same way, simply “because they have always been done that way”.

The other side of the equation is just as bad.  We rarely ask, “what if?”  However, those that do, sometimes end up with life changing results.

Swiss engineer, George de Mestral was returning from a hunting trip in the Alps with his dogs in 1941 when he took at close look at the burrs that kept sticking to his clothes and his dogs fur.  He was fascinated by how difficult they were to remove.  He scratched his head and asked, “why?”  By studying them under a microscope he noticed their hundreds of “hooks” that caught onto anything with a loop.  Thus, Velcro was invented.

Percy LeBaron Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, was experimenting with a magnetron.  The magnetron had been invented during WWII and used a microwave to allow the Allies to determine the exact locations of Nazi war machines and arsenals.  While testing the magnetron, Dr Spencer reached into his pocket for his chocolate bar, and discovered it had completely melted.  He scratched his head and asked, “why”?  He made the connection between the melted chocolate and the heat-producing magnetron.  He then tested his theory on a bag of un-popped corn kernels, and made history by discovering the microwave oven.

As you go through your day, stop and ask “why” more often.  We are surrounded by things that don’t make sense.  However, we take them for granted and never question their rationality.

So, what items make you scratch your head and ask, “why?”


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  1. Excellent comments, Kevin, especially the observation about the “price” of higher efficiency being a loss of visionary innovation. I have never studied the Japanese model with this in mind, but I know they do all they can to drive efficiencies into their production lines, while also fostering creativity in design.

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