OCT 14, 2015

(3-4 minute read by Kevin Sandlin)

We are always amazed at the insights we receive during every stage of the Vista Brand Roadmap, but sometimes that amazement comes in the form of total unexpected surprise. We never expected some of the twists and turns that we have seen when we asked the leadership teams of our growth clients to dream. (Click to Tweet) 

Step 2 of the Roadmap is about coming up with audacious dreams of what you really want to be. It’s about throwing away all preconceived notions of what’s holding you back, what you can and cannot do, and what your strengths and weaknesses might be. Some people are naturally good at imagining the future. For others, it's challenging. However, when you make this a requirement of a leadership team, the dynamic is completely different, and, in the case of Emids, LUMA Institute, and The Coca-Cola Company, totally unexpected. 

With established brands, leadership teams most often bring the DNA of the company with them to the table. The longer the company has been around, the deeper the DNA is entrenched, and the harder it is to refresh and enhance. In all three of these cases, the DNA of the organization was totally unique to them, and each took a completely different approach to get to the point of dreaming big.

Emids is based in India, with their US headquarters in Nashville, a US healthcare technology hub. The CEO of Emids, Saurabh Sinha, and his team were filled with engineers and Project Managers and developers, most of whom were from India. Their view of tech companies was pure Silicon Valley, which they viewed as very sexy and exciting; however, when it came to thinking and dreaming audaciously, they struggled. Their left brain culture, mentality, and corporate DNA was deeply entrenched in their everyday thinking.

We tried a few creative exercises, but that only led to the entire team questioning the exercises, and the steps, in order to reengineer the exercise. Steve Beshara recalls, "I was failing as a facilitator to spark new thinking." We remembered that you have to break routines to get the mind to think differently. We were trying to think creatively in their corporate boardroom. Walking into the boardroom for the millionth time, they had immediately gone into problem solving mode. So, we said, “Let’s go for a walk!”

Physical movement unlocks the mind, and their leader, Saurabh, had maintained a laid back approach in order to let the team step up and add to the collective thinking about their future. Halfway through, he finally interjected and set the example of free thinking, but not as an alpha voice. Rather, his leadership sent the clear signal to the team that they could think - and speak! - freely without concern. Futurecasting does not reside only with the CEO, everyone can (and should) contribute. Moving off site, walking, and encouraging others to engage all improved the team dynamic in their ability to think big and audaciously. It resulted in an "espirit de corp" with higher quality ideas. They were thinking differently but working towards the future, as one.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Emids is LUMA. LUMA Institute’s business is teaching innovation, so Step 2 was easy. With half a dozen Secretariat-like runners who just wanted to run in the room, there was no need for a warm-up exercises, walking or a change of venue to free their thinking. In fact, the LUMA team was so well-disciplined that shifting gears into Step 5 came early. “Let’s see if we can edit/refine the big ideas.” We completed Step 2 in half the time as normal.

They got The Roadmap in a second, clearly understood. They knew they would be shifting gears and moving forward. They used the process to bring light to their issues, and were able to glide between the steps, like a stream, rather than a canal with locks. Teams occasionally need programming and guidance to spark and shift their thinking. The LUMA institute’s DNA was such that they did not require much guidance at all, rather facilitation and debate. They achieved much, in little time.

This engagement with The Coca-Cola Company was the very first time the Vista Brand Roadmap - as a formalized process - had actually been deployed. Steve Beshara was learning as he facilitated the engagement, and he did not yet have the benefit of knowing David Kelly at IDEO and their (now world famous) processes. It was from this engagement with TCCC that Steve refined and finalized The Vista Brand Roadmap in 1997.

Any organization that’s more than 100 years old may be saddled with politics and sacred cows. At TCCC, there were strong voices in the group who were not accustomed to suspending judgement in order for free thought to flourish and allow the team to dream those big, audacious goals. Naysayers can be sophisticated: “We’ve tried that before and it does not work.” How can anyone junior to that person argue with such a statement? Unfortunately, those types of statements kill ideation and inspiration for everyone else. 

Additionally, there were strong beliefs about behaviors that would be considered "sacred cows". The bottlers wanted the Atlanta leadership to get rid of sacred cows and vise versa. This led to a temporary state of political tensions and agendas. It was at this point that “tough love” became necessary. “I had to step in and redirect them a little, remind them of common goals and mutual benefits, changing the dynamic of the sessions,” Steve Beshara recalls.

Every corporate culture is very unique, and requires different handling. There is no one size fits all. The culture and DNA of any organization is reflected in the ‘social system’ that is naturally or intentionally engineered by leadership. Success in Step 2 of the Vista Brand Roadmap requires the team to set aside that entire social system, including sacred cows and individual agendas. At the outset, The Coca-Cola Company was a politically-charged social system that initially struggled to do Step 2, before solidly conquering it. Emids had plenty of brainpower and capability but was slow to start. They simply needed some sparks to have it drawn out. LUMA was like trying to take IDEO through an IDEO process. 

In any case, getting teams to dream big is as different as their cultures are, and once they free themselves to think audaciously, they can’t stop.