A Three-Box Approach for Three Creatives

From retreat 2016-2

Janice, Maureen, and I had another honest, enlightening, and inspiring retreat last November. This year, our fourth gathering, we settled in at the newly renovated and re-opened Retreat at Norwich Lake in Huntington, Massachusetts, which provided the perfect environment for the meeting, talking, walking, and discovery that we enjoy.

Once again, we engaged the talented Katherine Hall to be our retreat facilitator, and she led us through a purposeful series of exercises and discussions that helped us outline a map for our collaboration’s past, present, and future. One tool she used was The Three-Box Approach, conceptualized some 30 years ago by Vijay Govindarajan, the Coxe Distinguished Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Katherine has worked with Vijay in her role as associate director at Smith College Executive Education for Women, where Vijay is a frequent faculty member.

Originally, Govindarajan’s model contained a box for the present and a second box for future innovation. But he found that CEO clients tend to have a “dominant logic” —a set way of doing things that may cloud their ability to see new business opportunities. “To excel in innovation, you have to overcome your own dominant logic,” he states in his book, The Three Box Solution, published in April 2016.

Thus, Govindarajan established Box 2, for Selectively Forgetting the Past. Box 1 is for Managing the Present, and Box 3 for Creating the Future. While this approach may sound a bit lofty for our creative partnership, Katherine knew just how to help us envision and apply the Three-Box Approach to The Creative.

Box 1 was the easiest for us to “fill.” In it we placed the day-to-day activities that we need to do to keep our business running smoothly—what we have to carefully attend to and nurture. Good to recognize those clearly but not let them dominate.

I actually liked putting things in Box 2. This is where we put the stuff we’ve done in the past that we need to let go of because it wasn’t working, has tripped us up, or is just a bad habit. Things like pursuing weak prospects, not communicating in person with each other enough, spending too much time on proposals are examples of our Box 2 contents. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to admit to such missteps, but Box 2 is what you seriously need to learn from and let go of to be successful.

Box 3 is where visionary thinking comes in. In Box 3, we identify our future opportunities for process improvement, achieving revenue growth, taking a fresh look at our business structure, roles, services, etc.  We three agreed to commit in 2017 to developing our Box 3 initiatives, with each of us taking responsibility to shepherd one project, meeting regularly to update, review, discuss, and agree upon next steps in making them a reality. ​

It’s an exciting place to be as we stand at the starting line of this new year—right at the edge of the memories and realities of 2016 and ready to dive into the possibilities of 2017. I’m grateful that we have each other to keep us focused and forward-moving on our Box 3 initiatives and selectively forgetting our old Box 2 habits!


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