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August 4, 2008

The Box Busters: Innovators Unleashed (Or So They Think)


“D.F., I want you to meet Nate,” said the client CEO. “He is a member of our new Box Busters working group.”


This should be good.


Nate extends his hand. “I helped come up with the name, Mr. Krause,” he proudly informed me.


“I see. What does it mean?”


Nate explained that the Box Busters working group had been “empowered” by the corporation to eschew conventional wisdom, challenge corporate paradigms and – you knew this was coming – “think outside the box.”


The Box Busters.


“You know,” I said. “This reminds me a little bit of when you had some skunkworks groups operating here.” Oops. There I stopped. Skunkworks groups were clandestine employee cabals who met in secret locations without the CEO’s knowledge to try to come up with creative, innovative ideas. I was afraid I had spilled the beans.


“Skunkworks groups!” said the CEO. “Absolutely loved those!”


“You found out about them?”


“Yes I did,” he said. “At first I must admit I was a little offended that the employees felt they needed to conduct their innovative thinking exercises without my involvement, but I quickly realized they were just trying to make the company better, so we decided the corporation would sponsor the skunkworks groups.”


“And what happened after that?” I asked.


“They just died out for some reason,” he said.


Gosh. Wonder why.


At any rate, the Box Busters are now the de facto successors to the skunkworks groups. They’re a group of employees who are permitted – required, even – to do things without following the usual procedures of the rest of the company.


Now, you don’t suppose this serves as a tacit admission that the company’s usual procedures are inefficient, anachronistic and antithetical to the whole idea of innovation. Hence the need to exempt a certain group from said rules so that at least someone is accomplishing something worthwhile. You don’t suppose that, do you? Of course you don’t. It was silly of me to think that.


“So what are you working on right now?” I asked Nate.


“We’re putting together a product rollout that will be unlike anything this company has ever seen,” he said. “Where the usual procedure takes two years, ours will take three months. We’ve streamlined the design process, accelerated the approval process and radically altered the interdepartmental input procedures.”


In other words, they’re doing stuff without asking the powers-that-be (especially legal) if it’s OK. That does sound faster!


“And you’re going to be able to bring this product to market without having to take all those conventional steps?”


“Absolutely,” Nate said.


“Well . . .” said the boss.


Nate and I both turned our glances quickly in the direction of the boss. Nate looked somewhat taken aback. I did not.


“Management will of course conduct a thorough review of all this,” the CEO said. “We value very highly the efforts of the Box Busters. They’re our stars! They’re our difference-makers. Prudence, of course, requires us to give any product rollout careful thought.”


Nate looked a little shellshocked. I gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder.


“Don’t worry, Nate,” I said. “If they let the Box Busters actually work, pretty soon the whole company would turn into a Box Busters group. And then do you know what would happen?”


He shook his head.


“The first assignment of the Corporatewide Box Busters would be to build a new, ‘better’ box.”


Nate looked at me. He knew it was true. Boxes are built to last.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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