Vijay Govindarajan, the Coxe Distinguished Professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, has developed a strategy to benefit a business in every phase of growth. Many organizations focus on day to day operations, but it’s necessary to take a step back and assess your business as an engine, rather than an assembly line. Your business has day-to-day operations, and these functions are vital for creating profits that build the future. With this in mind, it’s important to avoid letting present conditions stifle your plans for the future.
This is easier said than done, because in most cases, managers do not have the time necessary to accomplish daily tasks and recognize the potential of tomorrow. Also, in order to advance today, and even tomorrow, it’s crucial to let go of the past. The values, beliefs, and processes of the past may be preventing your company from moving forward.
Govindarajan has used over three decades of experience to develop a strategy for managers to lead innovation efforts at their company. He calls it the “Three-Box Solution,” and it is an approach that requires juggling priorities of the moment, while reflecting on the company’s former values and practices, and creating a plan for the future. Each box represents a phase of time, and each box calls for a specific set of skills, outlooks, methods, and leadership style. In balancing the past, present and future, you are actively and successfully setting yourself up for the future, day by day.
When you’re comfortable in the present, it’s easy to neglect the discomfort of the past and the anxiety of planning the future. For those very reasons, many organizations focus on the Box 1, which is the present. The present is comfortable, because you operating with processes ideas that have been successful thus far. This level of comfort means that these processes and ideas are heavily fixed into your system of operation. The second box is the dreaded past, the idea and methods left behind because of inefficiency, or even worse, failure.The last box, Box 3 contains the measured risk and experimentation you will need to make to advance your organization.
As you begin to balance the three boxes, you will need to learn to compromise your comfort, and adapt to new perspectives. Do not fall into the trap of your comfort, this is Box 1. In the same hand, do not let those team members with immediate goals be distracted. Those in working in the Box 1 cannot complete the innovation in Box 3, and conversely, Box 3 is not attainable without Box 1. Box 2 is vital to growth, because it will serve as the drawing board for development. While it may be painful to remember unsuccessful attempts of the past, it is important to use these attempts as learning lessons. The Three Box strategy requires humility; it is a process of continuous learning. While you will have to adapt to new management styles, and new perspectives, you are steadily building towards a successful future. To learn more about the Three Box Solution, see the Harvard Business Review.