Doctor Dispensing, Northwind Pharmaceuticals, Physician Dispensing

The “Buck” Stops Here, But So Can Innovation

Truman - Buck Stops Here“The Buck Stops Here” is an expression originated in the game of poker that refers to passing responsibility for dealing to another player. Harry Truman made the expression famous by keeping a sign on his desk to confirm that the President has to make the decisions and accept responsibility for those decisions. For leaders, the buck may stop here, but so can innovation if you’re not careful.

It is so incredibly easy to become self-absorbed. In business, this tendency frequently manifests itself in the most unfortunate places – sales, marketing, internal/external communications etc. Often our ideas center on our own view of the universe: philosophically, politically, spiritually; right down to how we think our products and services should be used.

As a leader, it is particularly easy to get stuck in the rut of our own conclusions. Conclusions on people, our company, our competitors and especially what we offer to the market. As we’ve scaled our business, I’ve discovered that one of my biggest limitations is a set of preconceived notions that I carry between my ears. Over time, it has become more challenging to continually refresh my perspective and see new possibilities within frameworks that I’ve worked through dozens of times.

What can we do to keep from stifling innovation with our own conclusions? My approach is a work-in-progress but here are a few ideas I’ve been employing to get beyond my self:

  • Be An Avid Reader. I maintain a collection of books and magazines strategically stationed around my house and office. Yes, I still subscribe to physical magazines and I still buy physical books. I try to read as widely as I possibly can and am generally working on several books at once. Old and new, books hold words and ideas – things I truly value and I seek them out frequently. Online sources multiply the available information exponentially and though it can be difficult to sort through everything, we must continually make the effort. It is easy to feel too busy or tired to invest yourself in reading something intently – this inclination is a big mistake. No matter how brilliant you are, the best source of new ideas is other people.
  • Ask Someone Else. Terribly obvious right? Yes. However, at the top of an organization, it can become easy to feel that you are the final arbiter of ideas. People come to you for decisions. People come to you for feedback. People ask, ask, ask, and you answer. Who do you ask? What are you asking? Oftentimes, I find myself asking something to support a course of action I feel is correct. This is natural. Like others, I seek input on my own ideas. This can be dangerous because most employees want to support the “boss’s” ideas. Thank you for your support! However, as leaders, we need to maintain a critical eye toward ourselves and deliberately seek the gaps in our thinking. This is not easy to do and it is not easy to get unbiased feedback within our own organization. Seek input from the inside and outside – frequently.
  • Follow Your Competitors. This has become easier than ever. Websites, blogs, various sources of news, PR etc. – there are many sources of information. Everyone is trying to differentiate themselves and the information available to us has exploded. There is no longer any excuse to be unaware of what your competitors are saying and doing. They will reveal good ideas and not-so-goo ideas. Both are great sources of inspiration.
  • Pay for Perspective. I continually look for new advisers and ways to engage others in our mission. Because of the complexity of our world, we have to rely on outside expertise. There is a huge world of professional advisers with many, many perspectives. As we’ve grown, our requirements for specialization and sophistication have grown. Keep talking to new sources of expertise and look for ways to engage these professionals in your business. No, you don’t want to needlessly grow your expenses, however, much of this expertise can be engaged through normal course-of-business transactions. Companies will provide amazing amounts of support through new sales processes – take advantage of it and pay for it when appropriate.
  • Go Global. We are currently hosting an exchange student from Germany. It is amazing how much we have in common and yet, how much is still different. We’ve discovered a number of things we take for granted here in the United States that are novel to someone visiting from another country. As Americans, our tendency is to think US-centrically. It is perfectly normal but it tends to lead to the very insular thinking that can stifle innovation. For me, LinkedIn has been a great source of ideas from outside of the United States and I continue to look for new and refreshing connections that provide more. Now more than ever, we are able to engage internationally and benefit from different approaches and ways of thinking.

We all want to think of ourselves as innovators and strong leaders. Experience has taught us much but that same experience can often slow us down and mire us in our own ways. To keep fresh, we must invest the time to discover new ideas, position ourselves for outside inspiration and continually challenge our own assumptions. If we don’t, we not only hold back our organization, we can limit our personal development and stop growing.

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