Peter Bregman, CEO of management consulting firm Bregman Partners, Inc.,has written a fantastic piece about creative problem solving and how thinking backwards from your desired goal can help reveal new solutions.
In an example highlighting the Dallas Four Seasons, Bregman explains how general manager Michael Newcomb maintained quality service and employee morale during tough economic times:
They focused on retaining their highest performing core staff — the ones who’d been with the hotel for 15 to 20 years — no matter what department they were in. That left gaps in certain departments. Then, they aggressively cross-trained their core staff. The people in laundry learned to clean golf carts. Housekeeping learned to landscape. And room service learned how to work in the restaurant.
Initially there was some resistance as people moved beyond their comfort zones, but they quickly adjusted. They were happy to maintain their hours, increase the diversity of their work, and learn additional skill sets. Instead of dipping, morale soared.
Michael didn’t evolve his model from current practices. He broke the mold by questioning everything in the service of his objective.
Which, it turns out, is a powerful model for creativity: think backwards from where you’re going, rather than forwards from where you’ve been. Identify the objective that’s most important and then question everything else, especially standard practice.
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