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Posted: September 28, 2012

Learn new ways to live long and prosper

Step outside your little world

Todd Ordal

Years ago when Kinko’s was growing rapidly, our founder took the senior people to the graduate business school at the University of Southern California for an annual week of development. If you have been through an MBA program, you’ve likely encountered the case study format of learning—nothing new there—but what was unique is that for the first four days, we were forbidden to talk about our business and could only focus on other businesses.

Though we were in the document business, we studied everything from chain saws (Husqvurna) to teppanyaki restaurants (Benihanna). Because it was an executive program with possible consulting assignments for the professors, we had their full attention including after hours. I remember a hilarious night doing “research” at Benihanna where a renowned professor of operations ended up with a talking lobster tail on his bald head after too much sake.

But I digress. By the end of the week, we were ready to “bring it home” and apply the learnings to our own business, often with dramatic results—adding a couple of billion dollars in revenue during this period!

Getting out of your own way and thinking about business challenges without having to worry about your own chain of command, compensation, budget and ego can be a wonderful learning experience because it frees the mind.

At the time, we were pretty much a cult-like organization and very insular. My non-scientific observation is that many successful organizations start out this way—Apple, Google, and Disney to name a few. If your ideas (e.g. strategy, vision) are truly unique, I believe that this can be beneficial. Alignment around a leadership team and a compelling vision—certainly not “let’s make the owners rich”—can really focus an organization. However, what I more often see is that executives at many companies do not take the time to get outside of their spaceship to learn from the rest of the universe.

There is a great book title, Never Eat Alone, which identifies part of what I am espousing. (You don’t need to read the book—it’s about networking. My enthusiasm is for the title.) In the past several weeks, I’ve had in-depth conversations with leaders from industries in publishing, outdoor gear, nutritional supplements, real estate, technology and healthcare. Many of the challenges and the great ideas from one industry pertain to the others. My experience is that those leaders who develop relationships with others with a different perspective are well rounded and capable of thinking more broadly about their challenges and opportunities.

Expose yourself to other industries and leaders who do things differently. Get a different twist on how to live long and prosper. Capt. James T. Kirk might have been destroyed by the Romulans had he not had a Vulcan by his side!

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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