Go ahead and jump – the art of JOOTSing

When my son was young he came out of his room one day very proud of himself, having gotten dressed all on his own.  However, I noticed he had his t-shirt on backwards so I pointed it out to him. 

He replied “No, it’s not.”

I said “Yes, it is.”

He replied straight back with “No it’s not!”

So I proceeded to inform him that the tag was in the front and it actually belongs at the back. This caused him to pull out the front of his shirt and examine the tag. At this point I was confident he would concede that his t-shirt was on back-to-front, but instead, he grabbed the tag, ripped it off, looked at me smiling and declared “No it’s not”. He then turned and walked away happy that the problem was fixed.

What my son had so amusingly accomplished was a clear example of JOOTSing (Jumping Out Of The System), a term created by famous philosopher Douglas Hofstadter. Once my son knew what the rules were, he had a choice; either conform to them or creatively break them. He jumped out of the system and immensely enjoyed doing so.

But what is the system? It’s a complex set of assumptions, personalities, and power structures evolved over time, familiar, tried and true. Those who work within the system are respected—and safe. However, it is only by challenging the status quo that creativity can thrive, because creativity violates the rules of the system from which it springs. True creativity needs to “jump” out of the “system”.

This is exactly what Uber did. They broke the rules, and the “system” despised them for it. In fact, they labelled them criminals for jumping out of the system. Barry Korengold, President of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association, described Uber this way: “I think of them as robber barons. They started off by operating illegally, without following any of the regulations and unfairly competing. And that’s how they became big—they had enough money to ignore all the rules.”

If people don’t challenge long held assumptions, the status quo will prevail, often with disastrous results. When I grew up, Kodak was dominant in camera technology, but they rested on past successes and decided to play it safe. They did whatever they could to protect the core film business and as a result failed to capitalise on the digital camera technology that their own engineers invented. The once great Kodak eventually filed for bankruptcy – Polaroid suffered a similar fate. They failed to jump out of the system.

In my experience, the barriers and limitations imposed by internal culture, systems and processes act as a handbrake on creativity. This is why its important to encourage JOOTSing and allow people to reason about the system, rather than always working within it. It’s difficult, but you can kick start the process by introducing an outside change agent to target assumptions, challenge them, and spark disruption.

As I mentioned earlier, creativity violates rules, but you need to understand the rules first; you must know tradition to subvert it. I use analytics to help critically examine a business and its market to identifying interesting trends and outliers. Because effective JOOTSing mostly comes down to boldness and confidence. An strong understanding of the rules drives the desire to look for creative ways to break them. It’s fun to break the rules. Not only is it fun, it can lead to better things.

I’m not talking about breaking all of the rules. I’m talking about taking a fresh look at the world around you to find innovative or exciting ways to improve it. We are all capable of making amazing contributions to our society, but only if we’re prepared to take the time to understand the system and have the confidence to jump out of it. Remember this the next time you put your t-shirt on backwards.

If you want to learn more about how you can use JOOTSing to foster creativity in your business drop me a note.

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The JOOTS process - Challenging questions.

When we come in to your business we are sceptical about everything we hear.  We will ask questions that your staff, for a number of reasons have not thought to ask or perhaps have been trained not to ask.

The process begins with interviews of key members of your leadership team.  It is from this that we challenge thinking and look at the problem for the outside.  We will examine the systems and assumptions with an aim of breaking as many established rules and guidelines as possible.

By the end of these interviews we will have questions, most of which have often been asked before and you have been told there is no clear answer, or perhaps it’s too time consuming and costly to derive.

This is when we go looking for insight to answer these questions. How do we do this? In short, we follow a scientific approach based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. 

We propose a number hypothesis and then execute small and Agile experiments (using mined data) to uncover meaningful answers. The purpose of these answers is to either prove or disprove the hypothesis. The then raises confidence levels to allow people to truly start being creative and breaking some of the established thinking to improve the business.

This is where we excel and this is where JOOTS comes into its own, working for you to deliver unrealised value to you and your organisation.