Bright and early on the morning of October 11th, 2012, New Orleans entrepreneurs and community leaders came together for a New Orleans Chamber and EO Louisiana- sponsored breakfast event. The gathering featured NY Times bestselling author and Detroit Venture Partners co-founder Josh Linkner as keynote speaker, and as Linkner addressed the crowd, he praised New Orleans’ entrepreneurial fever. Linker also spoke about creativity, innovation, and, (strangely enough) meatloaf.
According to Linkner, a meatloaf is an “out-of-date tradition” that stems from a story about a mother and daughter who learn that their family “tradition” of cutting the ends off a meatloaf was not as special as they thought; it was really just a grandmother’s method for fitting the meat into her pan. Why was Linker talking about meatloaf to the New Orleans business community? Because companies, just like families, have traditional ways of doing things. And like the mother and daughter, they often blindly follow traditional procedures without questioning why the tradition exists. However, a meatloaf in a business context can be detrimental to an organization’s forward progress if not identified and eliminated. For example, a company that fails to make the switch to digital advertising, because “direct mail ads have always worked,” will most likely lose market share to more progressive competitors.
Rather than thinking critically about why a company’s policies and systems exist, it is often easier to avoid the question and simply follow protocol because “that’s how it’s always been done”. A fear of rocking the boat and making mistakes (especially from new employees) can prevent the sort of questioning that leads to innovation, and consequently result in outdated company processes. Linkner cited the example of a Boston software company that solved the problem of an overly reluctant and cautious staff by issuing “get out of jail free” cards to its employees. These cards allowed the employees to go out on a limb and try something risky or unconventional, without worrying about the consequences. If a decision they made resulted in an unfavorable outcome, they could present the card and “get out of jail free” with no questions asked. Although this approach may breed minor detriments in the short-run, the positive effect of fostering a culture of experimenting and questioning has the potential to create great long-term value for an organization.
Linkner also cited examples of innovative companies, such as Dollar Shave Club and LittleMissMatched, that found ways to challenge some conventional commodities industries. By asking questions like “why do socks need to match?” and “why do men have to pay extra for fancy razors with features they don’t want?” these companies were able to add a unique flair to a typically boring commodity. So the next time you wonder what can help fuel innovation within your company, remember to ask why a convention, system, or process exists. This will help you drive creative thinking, and ideally eliminate the age-old dreaded meatloaf. And because each organization’s needs are unique, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more about implementing strategic methods that can drive innovation in your company.