The IPL is just over, and even before the cricketing fan can take a strategic timeout to pay his bills, get that long overdue open heart surgery done, or answer the wife's weeks old query about whether the mother-in-law can come over, the Champions Trophy is now upon us.
Past thinking used to be to chastise employees who were spending too much time watching matches. Some appraisals even left employees stumped on that accord. But in these innovation demanding times, corporate think tanks are realizing that the path to great ideas frequently lies on the detours of distraction. And in a country where cricket is considered a religion, it is only apt that this sport holds the pathway to the proverbial 'Darshana' or epiphany, whenever the asking rate for a new concept is incessantly rising.
For the mind looking for an emphatic reverse sweep when it comes to thinking, cricketing metaphors and inspiration provide several avenues. Here is an examination of a limited few.
Exploiting Power Plays
One of the recent innovations in the limited overs game is flexible power plays. Previously these short 5 or 10 (once 15) over intervals, were confined to the beginning or the end of the innings. In a sense, this was a concentrated period of time where things used to happen. But recent changes have enabled captains to invoke them anytime as per their need and change the balance of things at strategic moments. This has obviously added another layer of intrigue to the game.
It is often said tongue in cheek that 'if there was no last minute, no ideas would be generated'. Exploiting Power Plays when it comes to white collar pitches (pun intended), is all about trying to trash out ideas before the last over beckons. It involves simulating the same frenzy which typifies last minute brainstorms - the same desperation, the same shouting, even the same sandwiches ☺ - but much before the hangman starts preparing the noose. Chances are one might stumble upon a potent idea significantly prior to the panic button being hit. Though, that in itself sometimes becomes an excuse for some to hit the button anyway.
Sending in a Pinch Hitter
Classically, a pinch hitter is not a recognised batsman (usually a bowler), but is someone who is sent in way before his slated number, just to upset the balance of things by swinging a few lusty blows. Many captains have exploited this tactic to great effect to turn around matches. The low expectation associated with this role often enables the person to perform beyond his average and make a telling contribution to his team.
Many a time the team working on the problem is too close to it. They are unconscious of the inherent assumptions they make, while trying to think of solutions. Their proximity often blinkers the possibility of any real 'out of the box' ideas. What is often the output norm are incremental improvements. But calling in a pinch hitter, essentially someone from another team, or better still, another department, to come in and have a few unfettered bashes at the issue can be refreshingly revealing. He can often see the daylight where others are groping in the dark. And if our personal history has taught us anything, it is that we are so much better when it comes to thinking about other people's problems.
Building ideas using relay throws
An eye catching ritual which has enriched the art of fielding is the relay throw. Imported from baseball, this concept features one fieldsman chasing the ball to the boundary at top speed, sliding to retrieve it, whilst scooping it into the hands of a team mate running close behind. This often enables opportunities to change matches by saving runs and effecting critical run outs.
The cerebral version of the relay throw might revolve around someone in the room throwing an idea on the table, and the rest of the group taking on the onus of mandatorily having to build on it. It just has to be picked up, in whatever form it is presently in, and dabbled with. It is important that personal scepticism be cast aside for a bit. What often happens is that fledgling thoughts get interestingly embellished, sometimes way beyond what the originator might have conceived in the first place. Relays have the interesting side effect of eliminating delays when it comes to discovering great ideas.
Uncovering the 'slower ball' version of things
The slower ball has emerged as one of the most dangerous and devious weapons that bowlers employ in their arsenal these days. The reason for its efficacy is that it travels in an absolutely contrary direction to the batsman's expectations. He is preparing for a fast delivery, and is often left flailing in thin air, or playing a false stroke when the ball arrives at half pace. It is a vivid example of how exploring the exact opposite of something can comprehensively bowl challenges over.
Likewise, when it comes to thinking marathons in the boardroom, the 'slower ball' equivalent of things, would be to travel along lines of thought opposite to the 'norm'. What is something our company might never think of doing at such a time? What is the silliest solution to this problem? Why should our customers only expect us to behave in a certain manner? What if we didn't solve this issue at all? Such flights of fancy while lightening the mood in the room, also hold the potential of unlocking the doors to some terrific ideas. The age old romantic cliché about opposites attracting certainly holds true for this opposites approach, nurturing a love for radical ideas.
Taking those timeouts
Finally, a lot has to be said about strategic timeouts. These short breaks, taken mid-innings, enable teams to take stock of their approach and course correct. What is also invaluable is that the counsel of wise people from outside can also be taken as critical inputs by the captain. It is interesting to note how games frequently and dramatically change after such timeouts. Call it the vitality and freshness of cerebral steroids being added to the muscle and adrenaline of sporting performance.
Organisations often operate under the misguided notion that simply working harder at a problem will lead to better solutions. The concept of working lunches is one such amusing practice, where no one is really getting any food for thought or otherwise. It is very necessary to take breaks in any thinking process. Not only to give the brain an opportunity to rest and recharge, but perhaps and more critically, for the subconscious mind to get a chance to forge some novel connections - regularly the catalyst for 'Eureka' moments. Breaks also allow one to speak to others, ideally non-involved folk, about the problem, and that itself can do some wonderful things for the ideation process. It is important to appreciate that the ideation process is perhaps like holding onto a lump of sand of inspiration, the tighter one grips, the more inspiration can trickle away. Sometimes there is nothing better than walking away and taking a bird's eye view of the beach.
Eventually it is well-nigh impossible to go anywhere in India, and not be struck by the cricketing influence. It creeps into the conference room when the most sombre meeting is on. That innocent query, "What's the score?" is enough to digress from any serious discussion, even if many in the room actually wake up at that moment. Perhaps it is time we leveraged cricketing inspiration to effectively impact the problems and issues we are struggling with. It just might send them sailing over the ropes, to the cheers of everyone in the room.
(The author is an independent creative thinking trainer and brand ideation consultant. He has written two books, 'Lessons from the Playground' and 'The Madness Starts at 9'.)