Chapter 3

Do You Need
Thunderbolt Thinking

Recently my husband and I were watching a Public Broadcasting System program on volcanoes. It was a fascinating documentary of two French scientists with a lifelong dedication to the study of volcanic activity. During a particular scene in the Philippines, the ash from an erupting volcano had rapidly blanketed a nearby village, unexpectedly surprising the inhabitants. Because they were moving quickly to evacuate the tiny town, most of the livestock was left behind. In the aftermath a goat was trapped in the huge volcanic fallout. Twenty-four hours earlier this little guy had been roaming the cool mountainsides of the peaceful land. Now he was frozen, unable to budge, stuck in the solidified ash.

As we watched, I couldn't help but feel some empathy for the animal, struggling to be free and yet unable to move. Luckily the two scientists had the appropriate tools to literally chop away at the encrusted mass. Chunk by chunk they worked to release first the goat's front legs and then his back legs. Slowly the team was able to pull the animal out of the cementlike mass of ash. Once the barrier was removed, the liberated goat, although a bit wobbly, was able to courageously prance down the lane again.

Do you ever get stuck? Have you ever gotten locked into the "I've got the answer" syndrome? Or has "That's how we do it around here" rolled off your lips even before you realized what your employee or, worse yet, your child, was suggesting? It's happened to me. It happens to everyone. How about it? Are you stuck? Complete the "Are You Stuck?" Self-Assessment to see.


"Are You Stuck?"

Think about it. How do you operate on a daily basis? What is your modus operandi–your usual way of working? What are your daily patterns? Review the scale below. After reading each question, rate your current mode of operation on a scale from 1 to 10. What is your usual response? Fill in the blanks, add up your points, and see how you feel about your score.


I'm Not at All Stuck.......I'm Sometimes Stuck.........I'm Really Stuck!

_______I'm flexible and see things from several perspectives. I shift easily in my thought patterns. I value input from others and generally seek their suggestions. _______I'm usually prepared for change and never operate as if there's only one set of rules. I rarely step into a "That's how we do it around here" attitude. I often break with the past and blast through my usual routines. _______I consciously take time out to get refreshed and recharge my brain and body. Even in my hectic work environment, I generally laugh a lot–at myself and with others. _______I stay on top of change in my industry. I talk with clients, co-workers, and suppliers on a regular basis to get fresh ideas. Whether they are in the same location or halfway around the world, I manage to stay in touch. _______In the last year I've either planned or attended at least three training programs to enhance my skills. My staff either attended the same programs or went to similar ones. _______ X 5 = TOTAL SCORE Think about the three most important reasons why you got the score you got. Write down your thoughts: 1.__________________________________________ 2.__________________________________________ 3.__________________________________________

Are You Stuck–Not Responding to the Signals?

Motorola, Inc., one of the world's leading producers of electronic equipment, systems, and components, continually hears the signals. To promote change, flexibility, and awareness among the rank and file, the company allowed its employees to completely redesign the factory floor of a new semiconductor plant in Chandler, Arizona, without being constrained by past practices and costly physical impediments.

Then, to prevail in the pager business, Motorola called for a courageous revolution when the Japanese stormed the American electronic pager industry selling pagers at about half the price. Motorola realized that business as usual wouldn't be enough. They set out to develop the best off-the-shelf technology in the world. Through the action-oriented Bandit Project, they not only reduced production costs drastically, but also gained the flexibility to make each pager different to fit customers' specific needs. And, instead of taking a month or so to process orders, Motorola now transmits orders for customized pagers by computer to its plant at Boynton Beach, Florida. The pagers are manufactured, tested, and ready for delivery in less than two hours.

Motorola has remained a flexible leader in wireless communications, not just a manufacturer of paging devices and mobile phones. They see themselves not as a producer of products or services, locked into markets defined by current customer demands, but instead as a set of core competencies responding to and proactive with new business potentials.

Are You Stuck–Not Seeing the Power of Connecting the Pieces?

With a flexible focus–a willingness to concentrate activities while simultaneously being adjustable to change–you can strive for a clear vision and remain open to bridging the gap to new opportunities, new data, or a new situation.

Inferential Focus, a consulting firm, hones its insight skills masterfully and demonstrates the power of "connections" over and over. The firm gathers intelligence for clients, including Fortune 500 companies, money managers, and the White House. They do this by spotting what Carol Colman of its New York office calls "anomalies in patterns" and by remaining aware in order to piece together facts that don't fit into a normal information mosaic. How does this work? Here is an example. Several years ago, a member of the firm spotted four lines in the Wall Street Journal and made an inference that proved profitable to the firm's clients. The four lines said that Saudi Arabia was changing its shipping requirements for incoming goods, reducing by half the size of the containers and inspecting all, not just 80 percent, of the shipments. The consultant suspected fear of terrorism. The Saudis were known to respond to fear by stashing their oil money in a safe place–gold. Inferential Focus told its clients to buy gold. Six weeks later, the value of the gold had doubled.

Are You Stuck–Exhausted from Trying to Keep Up?

As the world grows smaller, opportunities expand. As a result, we need to develop the capability to react quickly to changing market conditions. The new innovations in communications such as cable TV, computer-based media, E-mail, and multimedia have shortened the communication exchange.

Speed has become an essential business virtue and no company exhibits quick, responsive performance like Caterpillar. In 1904, the name "Caterpillar" was coined for the Holt Manufacturing Company's first crawler (track-type) tractor. In 1925, the Holt and Best companies merged to form the Caterpillar Tractor Company. By the end of that year, the company had eighty-nine independent dealers worldwide who distinguished themselves by emphasizing parts-and-service support for machines in the field. Today, Caterpillar Inc. continues to be known for the reliability of its products and customer service, with Caterpillar Logistics Services, Inc., guaranteeing spare-parts delivery within forty-eight hours anywhere in the world.

Today's powerful time dynamics have an effect not just on our brains, but on our fundamental organizational roles. In the past, these roles have created a stable environment; now they are continually being revamped by the clock. In a shrinking world, time has become a critical success factor. We have come to accept the importance of satisfying current customer needs, but what about our own needs? Can you give yourself the opportunity to drop out from operating responsibilities, to unchain yourself from the day-to-day tasks, and to take stock of where you are going and where you have been? Can you simply take the time to think–to move away from the chaotic, mind-wrenching muddle and reallocate space for a fresh view? To allocate time not only for yourself, but for your staff, too? Today, the limit to innovation in your home, in business, or in your community is not technology but a time-stuck mind-set.

Are You Stuck–Missing Global Opportunities?

The opening of global borders, free trade, mergers, and relocations calls for daily reorganization, refocusing, and restructuring. This need to retrench has resulted in smaller groups that provide superior services through closely developed partnership alliances. The breakdown of these massive corporate structures has released a huge amount of stored energy–entrepreneurial energy. Millions of new jobs are created annually by midsize and small firms. How do these "little" firms do it? How do they fuse together the mass of energy that surrounds them? Basically, by not thinking straight. They give their teams the freedom to think over, under, and around a problem or issues. They sanction talk about possibilities as well as realities, using a small nucleus of people to release a vast amount of energy. They move out to the edges and capture the talent within their companies, and they respond to the world quickly. They remain unstuck.

From the beginning, 11 VI Incorporated, based in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, has been determined to be the world's leader of light transmissive and reflective optics in the high-power laser industry. Through a committed and management-driven strategy, the company developed a world-focused, internal culture that stressed high performance standards for a quality product and an efficient worldwide distribution network. Here's how.

Facing growing global competition, 11 VI created work teams designed to continuously monitor evolving technological advances and subsequent product development opportunities. As laser technology and products evolved, Germany and Japan became the major buyers of optical components for the world market. 11 VI responded by negotiating strategic alliances with key distributors in each foreign market. Today, more than 50 percent of the company's $15 million annual revenues come from sales to foreign customers. Their early recognition of the realities of the global marketplace has positioned them as world-class manufacturers in a growing and dynamic industry.

Are You Stuck–Suffering from Declining Returns?

It's time to rethink, to reassess your greatest resource and leverage brainpower as your sharpest competitive weapon. But "make no mistake," states Thomas A. Stewart in Fortune, "harnessing your intellectual capital is not easy. It will force you to think hard about what kind of outfit you run, . . . it requires a corporate culture that allows [brainpower] to flow freely, which means breaking down hierarchies and scrapping rules that stifle new ideas."

Workers today are not bound entirely by traditional, hierarchical organizational structures. Now, new networks and matrices within organizations transfer the span of control from vertical, top-down funnels to horizontal bands. The strength in these new flexible structures is that power flows across the organization, feeding it and redistributing energies. Workers at Yamaha proved this.

Yamaha started out making traditional pianos. But its managers and engineers transformed the industry–first, by distinguishing the piano's function (the musical keyboard) from its traditional form such as uprights and baby grands, and second, by understanding how it could apply a new technology (digital sound encoding) to satisfy customers in new and unexpected ways. Yamaha's engineers used the new technology both to enhance the piano's existing functions–it could be kept in tune, put in a smaller space, and used with headphones–and to imbue it with entirely new functions, such as the ability to give a one-finger virtuoso the sound of a big band. In contrast, many of Yamaha's competitors remained stuck, not recognizing the threat the new technology posed to their business; they weren't flexible enough to separate the piano's function from its traditional product form and construction process.

How will your work force's innovations affect the way you envision your organization's future direction? How will the growing gap between what your people want from their work and your organization's stated purpose change your strategic direction? What degree of awareness, insight, risk taking, flexibility, and courage will you need to move toward your future direction?

To effectually plan for tomorrow with the workers of today, you'll need unconventional methods. The most decisive question you'll have to ask is: "Who from inside and outside the organization can we use to fuse cooperative linkages and to thaw barriers that inhibit effective implementation of fresh ideas?" For example, IDS Financial Services turned the talent and expertise of a few employees into an asset available to all its financial planners. Through Insight, a software program developed by these employees, they have reduced by more than half the percentage of clients who leave.

Individuals behind your office doors, in your research labs, on your plant floors, and throughout your word-processing department are desperately sending a signal, an S.O.S.–a desire for a smashing, outrageous success! They want to be involved, to use all the talent they have, in ways that have not been tapped before. There's a new worker on this emerging horizon; don't miss the opportunity to reel in this fresh talent.

Bryan Beaulieu, CEO of Skyline Displays, Inc., heard the S.O.S. and organized a project everyone would remember: building a community playground. At the annual sales meeting, instead of hitting the golf course in their spare time, employees and distributors donated engineering and carpentry skills, and area residents volunteered time and equipment to complete the project. "Whenever we have a bad day," comments Beaulieu, "we go down to the park, watch the kids playing and get revitalized."

Drawing Pictures Liberates You and Jars You Loose

For many years, as I worked with our clients I began our thinking sessions by passing out plain white paper and colored, scented markers and then asking the participants to draw their brains.

D R A W - A - P I C T U R E

How Does Your Brain Look?

Are you aware of how you "see," how your brain looks? I think the power that lies within us is worth a good picture. So go ahead and draw your brain. There's no right or wrong, only your interpretation of the most extraordinary organ in your body, and there is no pain in doing this–honest.

If you are a bit uncomfortable with this exercise, that's natural. I have found that many of our participants are stuck when they are first asked to draw their brain. Research shows that in most adults, drawing skills have atrophied through lack of use, probably because they have been educated out of us. However, I believe there is a latent talent within us. Remember, there's no one way to draw a brain, and you are completely free to draw yours any way you want. You can do a very literal drawing or a symbolic representation. So go ahead and be wild. No one else is looking!

My Brain:

D R A W - A - P I C T U R E


Describe your brain with words that involve all five senses. For example: "If I could touch my brain right now, it would feel_______. "At this moment I imagine my brain to look______".

"If I could smell my brain, it would smell_______." Let yourself go and explore your brain in ways you may never have done before.

Words That Describe My Brain Are:

                                    KINESTHETIC WORDS
VISUAL WORDS    AUDITORY WORDS    (touch, taste, smell)

bright loud flowery

illuminated musical soft

skinny buzzing luscious

Three conclusions I can draw about my brain are:




Obediently, most complied with a humorous self-portrait. Laughter often filled the room as their masterpieces were hung on the wall with care. And each time the same result occurred–a refreshing knowledge of who was behind the colored marker. This simple exercise forces awareness. It causes a shift. People think differently about themselves whether they want to or not.

Harmonic Convergence

Recently, I worked with an all-male singing group investigating ideas and suggestions to increase motivation, energy, and commitment within their organization. Of course, the first thing we did was draw our brains. As each picture was posted on the wall, an uncanny phenomenon occurred: all the brains were drawn facing the same direction. Talk about harmony! After the members discussed the images and drew some conclusions about their specific group, they naturally fell into a conversation about commitment to the organization.

Although this exercise has given me the results I wanted–a shift in thinking–it never really occurred to me until recently why I used it. I "see" the world differently. I always have. I don't think in words; I think in pictures. Observing the reactions from group after group, I realized that I'm not alone. There are many people who think in pictures, many people who come alive when given a crayon, pencil, or marker. As a matter of fact, it's hard for me to even talk without a pencil and paper to stretch out my thoughts. My brain works that way.

Awareness: Laughing at Your Own "Seeing" Style Frees Your Frozen Thoughts

After drawing your brain, I'm sure you had a good laugh and may even "see" yourself differently. Seeing differently not only occurs with external vision, but inside, too. Thank heavens I learned early on to connect with this skill and recognize it as an advantage. Some label this "seeing differently" as dyslexia, reversal, or a learning disability. I label it fun! There's never a dull moment in my head. However, that doesn't downplay some of the challenges that I, or anyone like me who sees in pictures, have had fitting into our "word-based" institutions.

I love institutions. I come from a wonderful, large one–a thirteen-member family. But the rigidity of our formal institutions drives me crazy. Our educational system almost did me in. Because I've never been comfortable with words and equations, traditional, formal testing has remained a threat. As a matter of fact, it took three tries for me to accumulate a high enough score on my Scholastic Aptitude Test for entrance into a university. Further, plagued by my habit of reversing numbers and letters, I'm often frustrated by such simple tasks as entering the correct fax number to transmit a document. More than one fax that I can recall has traveled to the wrong destination.

Actually, all these supposed strikeouts are hilarious. They continually give me an opportunity to laugh at myself and keep from taking life too seriously. And once I was accepted into college, I not only passed my courses but made the dean's list six of the eight semesters I was in school! I am far from alone. Story after story recounts the success of those who were doomed as failures early on but who took the dare, captured the spirit, and eventually turned a negative situation into a positive win.

Ray Charles was only six years old when glaucoma robbed him of his sight. He could have sunk into a life of despair, but he had a dream of becoming a musician. How did he triumph over such great odds? "The power of visualization," says Charles. "Regardless of how bad things got on the outside, I kept a clear picture in my head.... I saw myself as a recording star."

How do you use your ability to "see" to trigger a difference? Do you leverage your vision? How do you see to foster effective thinking?

Using the Fringe: The Courage of Your Convictions Keeps You Unstuck

In grade school I stayed on the fringes, mostly trying to stay out of my teacher's direct eyesight. I hated to be called upon to read out loud; it was painful and embarrassing. The letters, words, and sentences continually jumped around on the page. Sometimes it took courage just to show up at school.

Distraught over this, I moved to the outer edge, away from any glimmer of the limelight that would force me to read in front of the class. On the rim, I refined my skills. On the rim, I could see the whole picture–in fact, that's when I started thinking in pictures. I created my own environment to explore the pictures that popped into my head. I was safe. No one judged or criticized. I used my "seeing handicap" to energize my spirit and developed a different perspective: another way to approach a problem, another way to get the information across without reading aloud! I drew pictures.

Historically, great ideas have emerged from the fringe. The most noted "fringe dwellers" include innovators like Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. Or, in more recent times, Dr. Yoshiro NakaMats (inventor of the floppy disk and the digital watch), who holds twice as many patents as Thomas Edison. Certainly, the computer world has been dramatically changed by people on the fringe: Steven Jobs, Stephen Wozniak, and Bill Gates. The constant influx of their ideas from the outer edge refuted the current view of the world, unleashing a technological revolution that's become permanent.

As with many dreamers of the impossible, Rene Anselmo, founder of Alpha Lyracom/Pan American Satellite in Greenwich, Connecticut, believes in a cause; his fight is with the telephone companies and freedom of access to an open market. "It's been a frustrating fight," he says. About once a week one of his executives would say, "Let's just close it up." The satellite company turned the corner when in 1991 CNN and ABC signed on for its services during Operation Desert Storm. By 1995 Anselmo plans to have three more satellites in orbit. "If everyone tells you it can't be done, you're onto a good thing," he says. "But that also means you're on your own. Out there by yourself with nothing but your conviction."

Are you ready to tap in to the power of your convictions?

Staying Unstuck So You're Ready for the Dance

You won't stay the same; I won't stay the same. Our families, companies, associations, and institutions won't stay the same. Change has always been with us–enormous change, minor change, speeding change, slow change–creating its own dance of fife. This dance of life has many partners, affecting each dancer in a unique manner. Do you have the luxury of waiting to be asked to dance? Can you remain in a holding pattern and wait till the music stops? Do you want to select your own dance partner? Or has the choice been made for you? The difference we face today is that in this global dance there is an intermingling of countless entities. The significant part you take in the dance is to understand the interrelationships and interconnected systems that affect all the parts of your life.

It's time to look to the outer edges, to pull in the talent that lies far from the limelight, to seek out a unique and different perspective, to sharpen your skills. It's time for you to blast through the barriers that hold you back and unleash your Thunderbolt spirit. It's time to pull your feet from the frozen ash and get unstuck, put on your dancing shoes, and dance.

The power of your convictions is the best tool you have to remain unstuck.