The Fastest Coffin In Mexico City

Mexico City taxiThe picture reminds me of some good times had in Mexico City and a couple of key lessons regarding competition and simplicity. The famous old VW Beetle taxis are being phased out now but will remain in peoples thoughts forever.

Most were never in very good condition but somehow the drivers always seemed to be able to ply their trade. Many were modified by the removal of the front passenger seat. They were ideal vehicles for two people and a mountain of shopping.

The drivers were ingenious and found ways to keep the cars cool in hot weather and devised some very clever hacks to stop them being stolen. The cleverest (and most weird) thing I saw was during a ride around Mexico City late at night.

It was hot and we had the windows wound down whilst driving briskly (some might say VERY) across the city. We looked to our right and we were being overtaken by a green and white taxi with a huge coffin strapped to the top. This was not a small object but one of the enormous coffins favoured by the Roman Catholic church in Central and South America.

There was no roof rack or carrying device. The driver had wound down both side windows, laid a length of thick carpet over the roof, put the coffin on top (with some help I guess) and then used some stout rope to bind the coffin to the car by passing it through the car itself.

I assume that the driver then jumped in through the open window. I also made the assumption that the coffin was empty, but knowing Mexicans, it might not have been.

A nice story, I hear you ask, but what has this got to do with me? There are two real lessons to learn here.

The first is that ingenuity is not confined to the western or developed world. There are some very clever people everywhere and not just inventors. Not many years ago Aston Martin had some prototype cars made for the Geneva Motor Show – in India. The quality was superb and the cost was a fraction of what a UK or German company would have charged. Competition is everywhere.

The second lesson is that simplicity is key. How can you achieve the results you want in the most straightforward way? When we are out walking we try to find the shortest way home when we are tired, not try and be clever and find the most complicated.

Another example related to motor cars here! Cuba has for a long time been the subject of trade embargoes. Ingenious mechanics who desperately wanted brake fluid found that they did not need to try and work out the formula and then produce it in a manufacturing plant. They mixed a well known brand of shampoo with sugar – simple! This would not work for a car manufacturer of course but enabled some Cuban mechanics and car enthusiasts to remain on the road.

So remember, competition is everywhere and simplicity is key.

 

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Creativity – why we must break with tradition

unreason breaking with traditionIt’s time to deeply question the traditions of the past and focus on reinventing the future. It’s time to question, imagine and create

What are you having for your Sunday lunch this week? If you live in the UK I would lay odds on the reply being a Sunday Roast with all of the trimmings. And if I asked you the same question in a month or two the answer would more than likely be the same. If I asked the question a third time you would wonder what type of idiot I was. “Of course I am having a roast dinner” you would say.You are following a good old fashioned tradition and have become a creature of habit. There is no need to even think about what you eat every Sunday lunchtime.

While traditions might be nice in a family or community setting, they can be less than helpful in the business world. Tradition and habit can cause us to switch off our brains.This becomes the easy option, no need to think critically about what you are doing, no need at all. You will just do as you have always done, and will get the same results!!

If your business is more than 12 months old, it will have traditions or norms and you and your colleagues will have developed habits. These will may not be helping to move your business forward. Ideas, processes, techniques, and past habits will hold you back in today’s competitive (and dangerous) economic climate. Even Worse, your workers may be turning off their minds and failing to create new ideas at the time you need them the most.

Great leaders are advocates for change, they acknowledge the past but they win by adapting to the present and creating for the future. They are open minded and brimming with curiousity.They love to challenge the status quo whilst focusing on what is possible.

Charles Handy gives a good example of this in his book “The Age of Unreason”. Does our NHS have to keep paying consultants higher salaries? Habit says that we pay them more (if we have the money to do so) but critical thinking asks “what is it that consultants want?”. They may want more money but how can they get it? Handy’s suggestion is to let them work less for the NHS so that they can work in private practice (or even play more golf). We can then use the money that we save to employ more junior doctors, spend it on hospital equipment or perhaps training.

With fierce global competition, we must question past habits and focus on inventing and shaping the future. What do we want the future to look like, how can we make it so? The alternative is that the future is merely an extrapolation of the past. It’s time to question, imagine and create. Each one of us has an unbelievable creative capacity which can be used in our jobs on a daily basis if the leaders and managers in our organisations allow it.

So whether you’re passing the gravy at Sunday lunch or at the office, now is a perfect time to break with tradition.

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Business as usual – not anymore!

I and many others spend our time talking to businesses and posting articles extolling the virtues of Innovation, how it provides us with new products and services, boosts our intrinsic motivation, helps us get to grips with a changing world …. and survive. But for many it is still business as usual.

After doing this for nearly eight years, the number of businesses listening is growing but not at a fast rate. There are many people still with their heads in the sand. A recent tweet suggested that the last seven words of a dying business are “We’ve never done it that way before”. How many businesses worldwide are sticking to the old ways of doing things, either because they are afraid or ignorant of alternatives?

A recent email conversation with a colleague in Australia put everything neatly into perspective. He stated that without Creativity and Innovation to be able to adapt and change we are left with a scenario put forward by Peter Drucker. The only method we have of differentiating our products and services within the marketplace is through pricing. Assuming that we have a product that will sell, we can only make ourselves more attractive than the competition by reducing our prices.

Even the most short sighted business leader can see that a huge number of companies that do not possess the financial clout or bank balances of large corporations will die – possibly uttering the seven words mentioned previously. What is your business going to do? It is no time for Business as Usual anymore.

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