Once I attended a new business proposal presentation by Bob Koether, in which he had his prospective customers all play a little nine-dot game that illustrated to them that the solutions to puzzles are often simple to see if we think in unconventional ways.
As people laughed and tore up their puzzles in frustration when Koether showed them the solution, he stood up to make his final point.
“We restrict our thinking for no good reason,” said Koether. “We do things simply because that’s the way we always did them. I want you to know that our commitment in serving your company is to always look outside the box for the most innovative solutions possible to our problems. We’ll never do something just because that’s the way we have always done it”.
To many business leaders pitching a lucrative account, this kind of puzzle-solving exercise would simply be considered a clever presentation. But to Bob Koether, it was a symbolic expression of his whole life in business.
Once, on a Xerox-sponsored trip in Cancun, Mexico, Bob and Mikespent the day out in treacherous waters on a fishing boat. After coming ashore, they retired to Carlos O’Brien’s restaurant for tequila and beer and a period of reflection on their lives in sales thus far.
“We knew that as well as we had done, we would never own boats like the one we were just in if we remained at Xerox,” said Bob. “We talked about possibilities in the bar, and it wasn’t long before we noticed some black T-shirts on the wall with the word infinity on them. Then, for more than two hours, Mike and I discussed just what the word infinity meant. Out of that discussion, a dream was born, a dream that took shape in the form of Infinity Communications.”
Bob Koether and his brother believed that there was one vital area in which Xerox was underperforming—and that was customer service.What if, they asked, a company’s commitment to the customer was infinite? Not boxed-in, but unlimited in its possibilities for creative service?With that concept as motivation, the two brothers formed “Infincom” (short for Infinity Communications) in the state of Arizona, and within 10 years they grew from six employees and no customers into a $50 million business with more than500 employees. And for the past three years straight, the ArizonaBusiness Gazette has ranked Infincom the number-one office equipment company in Arizona—ahead of Xerox.
All of us tend to look at our challenges from inside a box. We take what we’ve done in the past and put it in front of our eyes and then try to envision what we call “the future.” But that restricts our future. With that restricted view, the best the future can be is a “new and better past.”
Great motivational energy occurs when we get out of the box and assume that the possibilities for creative ideas are infinite. To realize the best possible future for yourself, don’t look at it through a box containing your own past.