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Three-Box Solutions During Seclusion

Over the course of days, maybe weeks, we’ve sent everyone to their homes to be secluded together with roommates, kids and spouses, and for the unfortunate few, inlaws. We’re given limitations (can’t go to retailers, can’t go out to eat, can’t sneeze in front of strangers, etc). We have regular check-ins with our teams and start to figure out how “working” remote really works. We are each in our own version of a "skunk works," which started with Lockeed Martin as a top secret innovation site and team. The term has since been reappropriated to ventures set out at arms length from a corporation with the purpose of inventing transformational change.

My skunk works days have been filled with conversations with entrepreneurs, thinkers and those forced to look for new opportunities. One of these interactions led to a conversation with Scott Jagodzinski, co-founder of Alchemy365 and former Managing Director of New Ventures at GoKart Labs. He reminded me of a great platform, The Three-Box Solution Playbook, identified and authored by Vijay Govindarajan “VG” as a way to organize your innovation.

Box one is your core, the part you continue to improve, make more efficient, and what some of us from the '80s called the “cash cow.” Box two is the stuff you’ll need to give up, unlearn, leave behind and forget. These may be your strengths today, but in order to allocate resources to the future, you need to give up on a portion of what is your past. “Transformational innovation tends to be the most difficult for larger enterprises. They don't have a process for identifying opportunities so they spread capital around the various options and none really pay off for the business,” according to Scott. This is box three of the three-box solution Scott is referring to above.

Let’s do an exercise, something you can do from the discomfort of your own home. Find three boxes—yes, simple, but the model is this simple and that’s what makes it elegant. Label each box with 1: Now; 2: Past; 3: Future. Over the course of these weeks secluded, gather artifacts and assign meaning. Start the first week by applying the methods to yourself.

If you’re an adventurous thinker, use found objects like any oddity from the junk drawer or a forgotten toy from the kids room. Perhaps you put a picture of a bike in box three, your car keys in box two and that stuffed pig in one; because you’ll be riding a bike to the office all summer and transforming your health. If you need more structure, use PostIt notes and describe the ideas before you add them to a box. Take a moment each day to think about the three boxes.

Check in with the team each week and share some of what you’ve gathered over the week. At a minimum you’ll have an entertaining “show and tell” over a Zoom happy hour. On the upside, you might actually start to create a new future on the horizon of this pandemic. We will get through this and those ventures that take the time to innovate now will have a healthier exit out of the pandemic. (If you need help getting this moving, reach out to Scott for a Zoom starter conversation.)

Lastly, inspired by something VG wrote on how he came up with the three box solution model. The horse of free will and the horse of fate from Eat, Pray, Love, offer a great lens to look at our current situation. We can’t control the horse of fate; it brings a virus from around the world to scatter lives and businesses to the wind. We need to focus on the horse of free will: we have a choice on how we respond to this virus. We can rally or we can forfeit. We can innovate or we can stagnate.

Let’s saddle up, people, and ride into the sunrise.

Originally published in Twin Cities Business Magazine.

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Categories Business & Marketing

This is ground control to Major Tom.