Streamlining Your Organization for Success

Best Practices, CEO Corner : Article

Lessons from the Space Pen

A few years ago, a Congresswoman gave me a Space Pen. It was a great gift, with a great story.

The Space Pen was created in the 1960’s as part of the Apollo program. We needed a pen that could write in zero gravity. So, our engineers developed the Space Pen. It writes upside down, underwater, in zero gravity, and more. Faced with the same challenge, Russian engineers used a pencil.

Over the years, I’ve seen several our clients in the Space Pen business—setting up systems or programs that, while robust, aren’t the simplest way to solve the problem. To make matters worse, many do this at a time when resources are particularly scarce. One of the first things that I look for in working with clients on strategies for success are Space Pens—places where results may cloud undue complexity rather than taking the simple or most obvious route.

There are a few ways to find areas where creating a ‘space pen,’ vs using a pencil may be the best option.

First, is to get “fresh eyes” in your organization. Sometimes this means hiring new staff or new board members or bringing in board members from outside your industry. Be sure to empower those voices to speak up—ask for the input of new people at the table. A fresh perspective is important.

Next, build structures to have regular reviews of all programs. Just because a program has been running well for years doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement—technology, assumptions and capabilities all change. Don’t be afraid of modifying what has been done.

Are you using a Space Pen or Pencile to streamline your organization Third, ask the hardest question of all— “Can this be on our ‘stop doing’ list?” So many organizations continue programs and processes for the sole reason of “we’ve always done it this way.”

Streamlining is like trimming the high branches on a tree to allow the ones below it to grow.

Ask yourself: are you writing with a Space Pen when a pencil will do?

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