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by Joe Chappell
Mar 12 2012
BlueSteps: Hi Gabor, thank you for taking the time to share with BlueSteps some ideas from your book. Referencing a video on the Slingshot website, let's start with a really fun question: What can today's leading executives learn from Lady Gaga?
Gabor George Burt: A great question to kick off with. Lady Gaga personifies the type of innovative thinking that executives should embrace. She rocketed to fame and success not by being the best singer in a traditional sense, nor by inventing a new form of music. Rather, she overstepped industry boundaries to fuse together music, fashion, and art, creating a new type of entertainment that captured the imagination of a broad audience. This perspective of re-packaging existing components in new combinations is the exciting shortcut to meaningful innovation. It is the common theme among many of the world’s top innovators, from Apple (blending technology with art), Cirque du Soleil (circus with theatre, ballet and opera), to Starbucks (centuries-old café culture with a quick-service model), and NetJets (airplane ownership with airline business travel).
BlueSteps: The book and accompanying website pose the questions: “What if you could reimagine your business? What if you could reimagine your life?” And, even before the book's introduction, there is the statement: "What you are about to read is no ordinary book. It is the center-piece of a multisensory experience." If the book is intended to extend beyond its pages, would you say, then, that Slingshot is a lifestyle or a strategy, or both?
Gabor George Burt: I think in many ways the separation of business concepts from personal wellness philosophies is an artificial one. The approach to problem-solving, harnessing creativity, and reaching goals is similar, so that a single concept can provide a unifying, fulfilling way of innovating in your business and personal life, or in any other sphere like education, politics, or sports. Therefore my aim with Slingshot is to present such an approach, to make readers inspired to re-imagine their business as well as anything else they do using the same framework. This way Slingshot itself is representative of the notion of overstepping industry boundaries and blending together traditionally separate topics. Moreover, Slingshot brings together multiple components to provide a multisensory experience (book, online forum, original music, and children's illustrations) – all of which serve to reinforce its message.
BlueSteps: The title of the book references what you describe inside as the Slingshot Framework. Why a slingshot, and what can today's leaders expect by adopting the Slingshot Framework?
Gabor George Burt: The image of a slingshot is symbolic of the framework in many ways. First, a slingshot is one of the most universal and simple children toys—evoking the sense of continuous exploration, limitless imagination that all of us possess in our childhood, but which becomes dormant in most adults. The framework prompts us to reengage our childhood creativity as our personal reservoir for innovative thinking. Second, a slingshot is reminiscent of the story of David vs. Goliath, in which a young boy overcomes a seemingly unbeatable opponent by using a sling. In the same spirit, the framework inspires us to circumvent head-on competition, and come up with alternative, more meaningful modes of engagement. And third, the very mechanics of a slingshot is to apply tension against an elastic material to launch a projectile forward. This is symbolic of how the framework enables us to continuously apply tension against self-imposed mental boundaries, thereby launching us forward to new possibilities.
By adopting the Slingshot Framework, leaders can expect to acquire a systematic way of linking creativity with smart strategy, not just for themselves, but for their entire organization. This creates alignment and focus on generating innovations that can continue to broaden the relevance of their business.
BlueSteps: Where are you seeing the type of innovation and strategy today that the Slingshot Framework facilitates? Any particular industries, companies, or economies?
Gabor George Burt: An exciting consequence of the 2008 economic crisis is that established hierarchies or delineations among businesses no longer hold. As Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO of GE noted: “This economic crisis doesn’t represent a cycle. It represents a reset. It’s an emotional, social, economic reset. People who understand that will prosper. Those who don’t will be left behind.” Opportunities exist for any company, industry or economy that is willing to adopt a new way of thinking, based on relevance and flexibility, rather than size or tradition. So the type of innovation and strategy that the Slingshot Framework facilitates is starting to take root everywhere, regardless of company profile, industry, or economy.
BlueSteps: In the book, you state: "Without continuous innovation and a vision to be market driving, an entire region or economy can quickly become irrelevant." You use Detroit and the American auto manufacturing industry as an example. How might this tenet apply to today's emerging markets in China, India, and Brazil, for example? Does innovation play a primary role in driving demand in these new economies? When we think of emerging markets, we often think of economies "coming of age" which implies a move toward some type of adulthood. Is this a bad analogy? Can growth better be described through an analogy related to childhood vision?
Gabor George Burt: The incremental evolution of emerging economies is also being replaced by the possibility of rapid transformation. Instead of playing catch up to mature economies, new economies have the golden platform to leapfrog them. Thereby the analogy of gradually moving towards adulthood is not as accurate as perhaps one of aspiring to be perpetually young and dynamic. I mention an illustration of this in my book, which I experienced during a recent drive across Europe. More mature economies along my route, such as France and Italy have extensive toll-booth systems on their highways, which are costly, cumbersome and inefficient. Further east, in the emerging economies of Slovenia and Hungary, where highways were built over the past couple of decades, there are no toll booths at all. Instead, the collection of road fees is done by charging the mobile phone account of drivers. This way, the new economies are not simply replicating the infrastructure of mature economies, but rather bypassing them altogether by using new technologies to create more practical and more advanced solutions.
BlueSteps: One idea Slingshot explores is a dichotomy of perfection and personalization. What is the relationship of perfection and personalization each to innovation?
Gabor George Burt: Firstly, a central point I make is that there is no such thing as a sustainably perfect product or service. Consumers by nature are insatiable and therefore they can be temporarily infatuated by offerings but not permanently satisfied by them. This is a fundamental justification for any company to never stop re-imagining their offering.
A consequence of the current economic environment is the changing definition of the perfect product or experience, one that has the best chance of infatuating a target audience. It is no longer the case that companies should strive to create the most perfect, ready-made offerings. Rather, they should strive to create offerings that allow consumers the optimal amount of customization to fabricate the perfect offering for themselves.
One example of this shift, related to childhood creativity and playing, is Lego. BusinessWeek observed in April 2010: “Kids with LEGO sets were once content to follow instructions and assemble a toy. If the picture on the box was a battleship, that’s what you built—unless you decided to skip the instructions, mix in other blocks, and build mutant battleships instead. LEGO’s DesignByME site brings some order to this chaos, offering digital design tools so kids can create a toy entirely from their imagination. When satisfied, they simply zip their creation to the company. LEGO will then manufacture the parts and send them in a box the kids also designed.”
BlueSteps: Although the United States is beginning to see some positive economic signals, there is much economic uncertainty in Europe, and much economic turbulence and uncertainty globally in recent years. Would you agree that focus on innovation often gets lost in times of hardship? How would you suggest today's leaders approach a childlike re-imagining of their businesses when so many are struggling with simply maintaining the status quo. In other words, is there a magic ratio of vision versus practicality?
Gabor George Burt: A period of adversity is also a period of opportunity. It just depends on your perspective. At issue is not a necessary trade-off between practicality and vision. Rather, the trade-off is between a rigid and reactive view of our environment and a proactive, flexible view. A good illustration of this distinction is the following quick scenario: Imagine that you are on a skiing adventure. You do a full day of intense skiing, and take a chairlift up for the final run at the end of the afternoon. When you get off the lift, you find yourself at the top of a high mountain peak. It’s getting dark and you are feeling tired. Suddenly it hits you that the only way back to the village below is to ski down the single steep slope, which is beyond your ability. As you start to ski down, filled with fear and reluctance, your instinct tells you to lean back away from the precipitous drop in front of you. However, this stance has exactly the opposite, unwanted effect. It puts pressure on the back of your skis, accelerating you down the slope and out of control. What should you do instead? You need to lean forward and push your weight on the front of your skis, which allows for a controlled descent.
The same approach holds in business during periods of adversity. If out of fear your gut reaction is to recoil and to start cutting costs just to survive, your very actions may be choking off the growth of your business and accelerating its potential demise. But if you lean forward and embrace the challenge of adversity, and are willing to continuously re-imagine your business, you can find ways not only to survive but to prosper. You can still cut costs or reallocate resources, but you do it in a way that has the strategic growth of your business in mind, not its mere survival.
BlueSteps: Gabor, if you could share one piece of key advice with today's global senior executives, what might that be?
Gabor George Burt: Albert Einstein said: “Knowledge is limited; but imagination encircles the world.” As a corporate leader, embrace your imagination and harness the collective imagination of your organization. Look upon components of your environment as building blocks to combine and repackage with your current offering in meaningful new ways. Doing this will enable you to continuously push the boundaries of your business for broadened relevance.
BlueSteps: Thank you, Gabor. We appreciate you sharing with BlueSteps some of the exciting ideas explored in Slingshot.
TEDxTalks with Gabor George Burt
About the Author of Slingshot
Gabor George Burt is an internationally recognized expert on innovation, creativity and strategy development. His spheres of expertise help organizations to overstep perceived limitations and to carve out successful growth strategies. He is actively involved in shaping strategy for a diverse group of international clients from Fortune 500 firms to start-ups and leads by example through his own initiatives.
Gabor writes articles for leading business publications and hosts a nationally broadcast radio show. His blog has been selected as a top online resource on innovation. Gabor has been featured in the book Radical Action for Radical Times, contributed case study material for the record-breaking book Blue Ocean Strategy and is the author of the new book Slingshot, which presents a framework for connecting systematic creativity with smart strategy. See www.slingshotliving.com
Gabor was born in Budapest, Hungary. He holds a BA in psychology from Amherst College as well as an MBA from INSEAD, France.
To join in on discussion of themes from the book, please connect with us on LinkedIn.
Interview conducted by Joe Chappell from the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).
BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 8,000 executive search professionals in over 70 countries. Be visible, and be considered for up to 75,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com.