A Wacky Idea: Boost your team’s performance by adding on an incompetent person!

You might be thinking, what could be more absurd than adding on an incompetent person to the team to boost their performance.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story of how a tall, heavy truck enter a tunnel but got stuck, because it got wedged inside the tunnel. Engineers came along and cracked their heads over how to solve this issue. They considered blasting off a part of the tunnel wall, dissecting the truck and other technical methods. A little boy walking along, with no knowledge of engineering or driving simply said, “why don’t you let the air out of the tires?”, which they did and the problem was solved.

The answer lies in ‘distance’: the more remote a person is from the work you and what your team does, the better the chances of him coming up with creative and original ideas to boost your team’s performance.

It has a lot to do with how distant or connected people are to their problems and issues. Let me explain.

Whenever a problem or challenge comes up within our scope of work we tend to give much more focus to it. This leads us to narrow our view of it, by paying more attention to the challenges it gives us. Invariably this also means we do not widen our view of that issue, by taking a few steps back from it and seeing beyond what it poses. Daily work demands, or the grind as they call it, works against us in thinking up new ideas or solutions to tackle these challenges.

So when a team is working together on a project, and a problem occurs, what’s the immediate reaction? To find solutions based on their own experience and areas of expertise, just like the engineers. They end up tweaking the item or product or service to work better, by at least a few degrees. But what if a whole new thinking was introduced that created a very innovative solution that exceeded expectations? Adding the “incompetent person” to the team may provide just that.

In the workplace, what does “incompetent” really mean? Just someone who may not know the ropes or the way you and your team does the job. He’s incompetent in your sphere of work, products and services. You and your team may be the qualified experts, while that person is more qualified in something totally disconnected from your work. He could be anyone: an executive, a janitor, a mother, a driver, a sailor, a client… anyone else. What he does is bring a fresh perspective to the problem and let’s you see it from a very different angle.

For example, if you want your website not to drag because of a high load of traffic, would you think of increasing server capacity first? But a non-IT person would look at your website and say, why not take away those banner ads or other non-essential items in it, that only takes up unnecessary space? Now wouldn’t that be a cheaper option for you instead or running out and buying an extra server?

A library solved the problem of long queues at the counter by having a fresh perspective provided by a non-librarian. Bottlenecks were often created at the library counter by patrons wanting to borrow or return books, or pay their overdue fines. Sometimes a person queued for over 30 minutes just to settle a few cents’ fine. The management concurred this was not a good use of patron’s time in the library, when what was more important is they utilise their time in reading books, sourcing information or attending programmes.

Librarians being close to the issue tended to reduce the bottleneck by adding another temporary counter and creating a separate queue, to speed things up. But this was not a good longterm solution. Then the CEO, a non-librarian coming from an IT background, walked in, saw the problem, and suggested creating an automated, do-it-yourself (DIY) system of borrowing and returning books and paying of fines. Heads huddled, projects were created, and the result was an innovative solution no other library thought of at that time. Being DIY freed valuable time off the librarians as well to focus on providing more value-added services to the patrons.

In short, when you and your team are facing a work-centred problem, you can do the following:
1. Have someone else from another department or outside the office suggest a solution from a  fresh perspective.
2. Distance yourself from the problem: step back and ask yourself, if you were not the one facing the problem, what would you do?
3. Be creative: learn and use creative thinking techniques to create brilliant new ideas. The more you create, the better the chances of finding that ONE solution that solves the problem.

Have fun creating!

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