Are You Making the Old Mistakes?

Posted by on April 8, 2002

You need some new ideas because the old ones aren’t working. The time has come to reinvent your product and your company, maybe even yourself. But the only framework within which you can visualize a new system is the old system. Like a dog chasing its tail, you keep coming back to the same old place. Let me tell you how to break out of that.

The first step is to realize that your problem is not unique. Thousands of people have already faced and defeated a problem exactly like yours. The only difference is that back then it was wearing different clothes. So don’t let the clothing fool you. Underneath, it’s the same old problem.

Stephen Sanger is the exceptional CEO of General Mills, a company that makes 1.5 million dollars an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When Sanger wanted to improve the productivity of his factories, he sent his technicians to study the pit crews during a NASCAR race. At the end of the day the techies came home and reduced the time it took to switch a plant line by 93 percent. What used to shut down Sanger’s factories for 5 long hours now takes just 20 minutes.

How did Stephen Sanger, a busy CEO, learn to think such unclouded thoughts? Where did he learn to see with such far-sighted clarity? Can you and I likewise learn to quickly identify problems and recognize their solutions? Is there something that we can study? Yes, as a matter of fact, there is, and Stephen Sanger received his degree in it from DePauw University in 1968.

Sanger’s degree is in history.

What is History if not a book of creative solutions, each one time-tested and true? (And you thought history was boring.) Far from tedious and boring, history is relevant, vibrant and alive. Your problem with history began when a public-school athletics coach who had no real understanding of it introduced you to the subject. Am I right?

Next week I’ll take you into the world of an unknown genius, a Russian scientist who perfected a system for creative problem solving back in 1946. And was sent to Siberia for it.

Roy H. Williams

Leave a Reply