In 1847, French Army captains Claude-Etienne Minie and Henri-Gustave Delvigne developed a new technology called the Minie ball. This new type of bullet was an innovation that improved the accuracy of rifle muskets, because it took advantage of the gun’s spiraled grooves inside the barrel (“rifling”). When the rifles were fired, hot, expanding gas pushed on and deformed the Minie ball so that it connected with the spiraled grooves and spun as it traveled down the barrel. The spin made the bullet more accurate, and the seal created when the Minie ball changed shape pushed the bullet faster and gave it a longer range.
Older muskets fired simple, round bullets that were accurate only at short range, so soldiers that used them had to advance shoulder-to-shoulder and get within yards of the enemy to have any hope of hitting anyone. However, with a rifle musket and Minie ball ammunition, this was no longer necessary. The tradeoff for the new technology was that the soldiers couldn’t just point and shoot. They now had to learn new skills to improve their aim, since they would be firing from much further away.
This new technology became popular right about the time of the American Civil War, but military commanders were slow to change their tactics. Having learned their strategies in earlier conflicts with different types of weapons, they didn’t see the potential of the new technology and continued to line up their troops for close-range attacks on the enemy positions. As a result, they experienced terrible losses on both sides until they began to change how they trained and deployed their troops.*
When a new technology has the potential to impact our work, it’s time for us to adopt different tactics. However, the pace of change is increasing, and the number of new tools out there makes it difficult for us to know what is useful. Plus, we have been operating in a different paradigm (way of thinking about our work). It’s not always easy to see the potential of new tools. So, here are a few ideas that might help:
- Encourage your staff to be on the lookout for new, relevant technologies.
- Give them regular opportunities to help you see the possibilities for applying them to the work.
- Allow them to try out new tools on a small scale and report back on the results.
- When they find something that makes a difference, let them help share it with other staff and implement its use.
- Provide recognition for those that find effective, new tools.
- Share what you learn with your peers.
As leaders, it’s often up to us to model the way by challenging ourselves out of our comfort zones and learning which new tools give us a strategic advantage. This doesn’t mean we have to be the technology experts, but it does mean that we have to create opportunities for our teams to show us new ways to create more impact.
* Historians estimate that the war killed over 600,000 people – 10% of the men in the North and 30% of the men in the South.
25-40 minutes (depending upon group size)
This fun icebreaker can be an energizing way to get participants thinking out of the box.
o Flipchart paper (several sheets for each group)
o Markers (different colors to allow for creativity)
o Masking tape to hang flipcharts
o Prizes for the winners (optional)
Use the following script (or modify to suit your needs):
- “We are going to do an activity to help us think out of the box.”
- “It will get us ready for some possibility thinking.”
- “Before we begin, I need to separate you into teams.” (Separate participants into groups using whatever sorting technique you like. Group size should be about 6-8 people. Once they are sorted, read the following few paragraphs. You might want to ask someone with artistic abilities to draw the planet and its characteristics as you tell the story.)
- “Each group represents a team of scientists who has discovered intelligent life on two planets in a distant galaxy. The planets are called Inner Zebox and Outer Zebox.”
- “Your deep space probe has returned findings that have led you to believe that Inner Zebox is a dying planet.” The atmosphere is stale and toxic and limits the thinking abilities of those who live there to safe, comfortable and uninspired ideas.
- “Outer Zebox, however, is flourishing! The atmosphere there is crisp and full of energy, and it gives those living there the ability to think new, innovative and exciting ideas.”
- “You are a little surprised that life is flourishing on Outer Zebox, because conditions on the planet are quite unusual.”
- “For example, it has three suns.”
- “It spins five times faster than the rotation of the earth.”
- “Strong winds on the planet blow straight up from the surface.”
- “And the planet is located right in the middle of an asteroid belt, where it receives meteor showers three times a day.”
- “Your government is very excited (and a little worried) at the idea that another planet has intelligent life, and they have asked you to draw a sketch of the type of being you are likely to meet when you make contact.”
- “In your groups, discuss and then draw the intelligent life form that would flourish on this planet.”
- “Your probe has not yet returned photographs, so you will have to make some educated guesses about what it looks like and what it is able to do.”
- “Use the data you’ve collected about its environment to help you imagine this new life form.”
- “You have fifteen (15) minutes to complete your drawings.” (After groups have finished their drawings, have them hang them up on the wall. Then have each group do a short presentation about their life form. After all the presentations, invite the participants to vote on the creature that is the most “Outer Zebox” (innovative and most likely to flourish on the planet) by putting a single dot in the corner of the drawing they like best with a marker. Award a prize if you wish.)