Suppose you or your organization face a critical problem. To succeed, a specified metric must be met. Perhaps you hope to earn $100,000, attract an audience of 250, and generate 750,000 social media views. What do you do?
In most cases, attempted solutions are hardly shockers: The obvious choice. Best practices. The way we’ve always done things. Though there is no guarantee it will work, this well-travelled path becomes the only option under serious consideration. Few alternate routes (if any) receive even superficial consideration. Nothing else comes to mind.
Unfortunately, grim reality sets in when progressing deeper along the journey. It becomes apparent that just 75%, 60%, or 32% of your initial objective can be realistically achieved. “$100,000 is clearly impossible—Let’s settle for $72,000.” With few options beyond disappointment, the destination gets downgraded. Ambitions shrink. Though the same general strategy guides the way, there is one distinct difference. You make the problem smaller.
A related scenario plays out like this. After hitting a given benchmark, perhaps consistently, there is the desire to do better. In response, we establish a slightly higher target. “Our current subscriber count is 3,332—Might we inch up to 3,500?” In this case, you make the problem marginally more significant.
With the modest, incremental change, individuals and teams notoriously pursue minor variations of what they’ve always done. Embracing the familiar, the hope is to do a little better, a little more effectively, and intensely than last time.
Will it work? Possibly. But don’t expect miracles. Unprecedented success demands new, even revolutionary, thinking.
If a puzzle feels difficult, perhaps you have the wrong scope. Rather than diminishing the dream or slightly augmenting it, why not make the problem way bigger? Applying an innovation technique I call amplification, try doubling the challenge. Or better yet, multiply by a factor of five or ten.
Amplified Aspirations Force Radical Reimagination
With significantly expanded success criteria, one thing is sure: Tried and true methods are destined to fail. Removing such possibilities from consideration provides space and a mandate for new ideas. Suddenly unconventional, wild solutions receive consideration. They typically represent your best hope.
Here is an example to demonstrate the point.
Suppose Hitting High Volleyball Team (HHVT) has raised $2500 annually for the past ten years through a bake sale and car washes. This season they hope to generate more, setting a stretch goal of $3000.
This number feels ambitious, even daunting. Yet, from another perspective, $500 represents a slight increase. While success is possible, breakthrough alternatives are unlikely to be considered, let alone adopted.
What if HHVT changes the construct, doubling their aim to $5,000?
Making such a dramatic leap requires fresh strategizing. Even if they fall short by bringing in just $4,600, the initial $3000 aspiration will be exceeded.
When Amplifying Goals, Success is Possible Even in Failure
How might amplification shape strategy? Note the direct correlation between heightened ambition and creativity. Here are four of a hundred solutions.
During the halftime of a school basketball game, the volleyball team emerges. Previously secured donors offer fifty cents per consecutive volley over 100 seconds. The results:
120 pledges x $.50/hit x 75 volleys = $4,500 (in 100 seconds!)
Spikes, Spikes, & Spikes
This ticketed, black-tie event is a fashion show featuring local celebrities serving spiked drinks (donated), sporting spiked haircuts, and wearing spiked heels.
80 guests x $100/person = $8,000.
HHVT negotiates a gig to become the opening act for a high-profile rap concert in a local 12,000-seat arena. The team competes against performing artists, generating unusually high interest and community pride in the event.
$6,000 appearance fee + $5000 share of concessions = $11,000.
HHVT sends their team ball—signed by astronauts—on a space shuttle mission scheduled in tandem with an eclipse, auctioned after returning to Earth.
$50,000 auction price plus international media attention
At some point, you will undoubtedly confront a daunting problem that feels too immense to solve. Might the opposite be true? Perhaps it is small-minded thinking that could stunt success. “Let’s get practical” is often code for implementing obvious, uninspired solutions and accepting whatever limitations those visions bring.
Don’t fall into the trap. When victory feels elusive, consider changing the game by making your challenge bigger. The larger the aspiration, the bolder the vision.
Images courtesy of Depositphotos
Speaker, author, consultant, and facilitator David Cutler is known for leading immersive “innovation GAMEs.” These powerful, team-based experiences have empowered business, arts, and education communities from around the globe to solve creative challenges while becoming better collaborators. His recent full-color, illustrated book The GAME of Innovation (McGraw-Hill; 2022) guides readers to conquer complex challenges, level up their team, and invent the extraordinary.
Cutler is also an award-winning, multi-genre musician and Yamaha Master Educator. Dr. Cutler is a Distinguished Professor at University of South Carolina, where he teaches innovation and entrepreneurship, and a member of the Liberty Fellowship and Aspen Global Leadership Network.