Re-inventing The Wheel

Originally published January 10, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press

“There’s no sense in re-inventing the wheel.”

How many times have we heard this in the workplace? Or worse, said it? It is a passive way of telling someone you’d prefer they stay within the boundaries and be as unoriginal as possible. That phrase brings out every defiant bone in my body and motivates me toward wheel reinvention on the double.

Let’s think about the times when this phrase is used: When management is trying to come up with a solution to a particular issue facing the business. Someone suggests looking at what other businesses in the industry are doing because “there is no sense in re-inventing the wheel.” Or perhaps a frontline employee makes a suggestion for amending a process because she has found a way of accomplishing something more efficiently. The middle manager doesn’t understand the new idea and thus says, “Our process works really well. There is no sense in re-inventing the wheel.”

(Picture me pulling my hair out having an “Office Space” like meltdown on an unassuming piece of office equipment).

It’s nothing against wheels. Wheels are a superb invention when used in correct context. The issue lands more with placing limitations on our thought process or our field of vision. The issue lands when we limit the big dreams and set small boundaries. Even worse, the issue lands when we do this to our teams and colleagues.

How to re-invent the wheel in three easy steps:

1. Steal from industries that are different than yours. How many conferences have you attended where the speaker line-up is chalked full of “industry experts” discussing “industry trends?” And how much of what you’ve learned in those conferences has dramatically changed the way you do business or be revolutionary to your bottom line? Zero to one?

Here’s why: If it is an industry trend that means the industry already knows about it and it is likely a lot more wheel-looking than otherwise. When Apple was first exploring going into retail, it didn’t look at what other big box electronic retailers were doing. Instead, Apple studied the five-star service mastered by the Ritz-Carlton and implemented a customer-centric mindset as its primary model for retail above all else. How might you emulate what the masters are doing in another industry for your own business?

2. Hold yourself to a higher standard. Set your sights far beyond Montrose. Think about your business or your personal success being competitive with the best in the state, nation or world. Now might be the time to study those “industry experts” and understand where they’ve set the bar so you can aim to beat it. Limiting yourself to the small pond and the biggest fish will do nothing but stifle your own potential growth. How might you push past what success looks like on the micro, and instead jump headfirst into the big pond on the macro?

3. Cut the red tape. Many industries are highly regulated. Then, we as businesses and organizations further regulate by lacing our environments with more policy and procedure until we find ourselves bound so tightly that the wheel can’t even spin, let alone be re-invented. Have the courage to know when to bend, go around, and sometimes break the rules. Do not let “policy” or “rule” stop you from dreaming about what could be. Once that dream has been conjured up, then is the time to figure out how to feasibly accomplish it while keeping your integrity.

Facebook routinely breaks the rules by deciding they don’t need to make “all the money” (not that anyone at Facebook is struggling). By focusing on other ambitions aside from the bottom line, (though their investors would prefer they focus on cash money) Facebook has cut the red tape and re-invented the wheel a million times over. How might you be fearless in the face of red tape, regulation and policy in the spirit of innovation and change?

I am really glad someone invented the wheel in the first place. And sliced bread. I am also really glad someone looked at the rotary wheel of a telephone and decided to reinvent it. I am glad Michael Phelps got out of his small pool and decided the risk of swimming with the big fish was worth it. And I’m glad Martin Luther King, Jr. had the courage to break the rules and cast a vision bigger than what anyone thought possible.

Mediocrity is one heck of an addiction. Don’t take the bait.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation, City of Montrose. Reach her at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.