“Kid, in order to make it in this business, yah got to think outside the box!”
Ever hear that expression? I have, and more than once . . . mostly from motivational speakers, people that have helped me grow along the way in the hospitality industry, and from me . . . yes, you heard me right, from me! I have to remind myself every once in a while, that solutions to many problems do not come neatly packaged and are just waiting somewhere in our brains to be unwrapped and opened. It would be nice if that were the case, but too often the better solutions are found outside the box, in places where only the daring goes; those people who are willing to explore, to dream, to take the extra step, be it possibly dangerous, deleterious, or detrimental to one’s career.
Obviously, not all the decisions we are asked to make, or make, have anything to do with “thinking outside the box”, but it is necessary to understand that we have to train ourselves to be able to think outside the box, to leave our comfort zone, which, as many of us know, is easier said than done.
Brainstorming sessions, clustering ideas, mental mapping, lists, stream of consciousness exercises are all good methods to get the “little grey cells” moving, as Hercule Poirot would say in solving difficult murders and whatnots, and many of these same techniques can be used in helping us to think outside the box.
However, before we can do any “outside the box” stuff, we have to know what that cliché really means or implies.
For the purposes of this essay, it means that we bypass the quick and easy answers/solutions that are Band-Aid fixes at best, and come up with a variety of Plan Bs (alternatives) that offer long-lasting solutions.
The standard thinking of the above problem—conundrum? —, most of the time, is that we only take into consideration the three things mentioned: services, room rates, and staff, and by doing so, we limit ourselves just to those three things when, in reality, there are all sorts of other things that can come into play to accomplish the desired results.
In the hospitality business, this may mean coming up with a long-term plan to increase occupancy without sacrificing services, current room rate prices, or letting go of staff—and, of course, without increasing current budget. Or coming up with a hotel concept that even though it is a hotel it will feel more like coming home, to prospective guests. Or rearranging a restaurant that seats you as if you were a sardine in a can into a place that offers large and small parties of guests a modicum of privacy, mobility, and comfort, without increasing prices or sacrificing service. Or coming up with an innovative way for large and small conventions to gather other than in the standard partitioned rectangle or square cubby hole, in which, more than likely, all feel squeezed in.
There are solutions out there to all these ideas, but it takes alternative thinking to come up with viable solutions. One of the ways I use to come up with alternative solutions is to ask myself: “If I had an unlimited budget, what would I do?” I would then write down all the things I would do, ponder it for a while, tweak it here and there, and then, after deliberating, I would go back and take out all extra costs and see what I could do without any “new” money, and strange though it may sound, within what is left, more times than not, is either the answer or a good beginning to the answer to the problem.
Thinking outside the box is not something that exists only for managers, it exists in all of us, no matter what position we have within an organization: from valet to CEO, all of us have the capability to think outside the box, which means that all of us may have something to bring to the table, but for that to happen . . . well, that’s for a future article.