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How the Australian Army Learned to Think Fast

2 September 2014 By LV's Imagineer, Bill Jarrard


Who would think that innovation happens in the regular army? Using the constraints of strict rules of engagement, I tasked two opposing teams of 5-7 with the job of shifting places with each other, unravelling a seemingly complex puzzle to get to the result.

At first, teams would take about 20 mins to solve the problem.  I got them to repeat it over and over, getting times down to less than five minutes. Most teams were satisfied with that result.

Then, I’d ask them to rethink their approach. Inevitably they’d attempt to break the rules, and often times got worse rather than better – until a new approach emerged, dropping the time to less than one minute. Now high-fives flew.

But I wasn’t finished.  I’d tell them the global benchmark was less than 10 seconds.  They’d howl in protest that the rules must therefore be broken, but that wasn’t the case, I assured them. What was needed was another insight into their thinking, a creative new idea.

As they studied what they were doing, I’d remind them of who they were, what they did, what they practiced until it became a system. And when the light bulb came on, they’d always get their result down below 10 seconds. 

This massive change in approach came about in less than 90 minutes – from an initial 20 minutes to less than 10 seconds, with just a change in thinking! What they were experiencing was critical and creative thinking in action.

In other real-world settings, I’ve had teams improve major work activities from 12 weeks to 11 days, take systems from 80% effective to 99.9% effective, and double revenue every two years. What it takes is leadership and the application of critical and creative thinking – and an entrepreneurial spirit.

What are you doing in your organisation that is working now, but if it was challenged creatively might just deliver an astonishingly better result? Are any of your competitors already doing that?

As Leadership Victoria’s resident Imagineer, Bill Jarrard (WCLP '90) helps people and organisations Imagine the future they wish to achieve and then Engineer it into reality. Bill focuses on people and organisational development, with a particular passion for continuous improvement, creative thinking, and applied innovation.

Bill designs and delivers our Leading Innovation Series: Making Innovation Happen (May), Thinking Strategically to Lead Innovation (July) and Making Innovation Happen with Critical and Creative Thinking (September). Register now