Long term readers of this blog will know that every December, I do my best to “blow up” my business and take a fresh look at the assumptions underlying how we do what we do.  In effect, the question we ask ourselves each year is “if everything is up for grabs and nothing is a given, what would we want to create in the world and how would we go about creating it?”

This year, I decided to use a framework I’d stumbled across in my local Barnes and Noble bookstore over the Thanksgiving break called The Three Box Solution by Vijay Govindarajan, an expert on strategy and innovation with professorships at Dartmouth and Harvard and a client list including 25% of the Fortune 500. While on the one hand his resume felt like it might be overkill for my own little company, I also felt that universal principles are universal. If there was anything solid behind his framework, it should work as well for us as it did for GE, Hasbro, Keurig, and the host of other major corporations cited in the book.

What follows is the framework as I understood it and implemented it over four days with my team. We used it on both the business as a whole and the impending launch for the Creating the Impossible book in January. Anything you love about the framework will ineveitably come from Vijay Govindarajan; anything that sounds baffling or naïve is no doubt an addition or misinterpretation of my own.

The “Three Boxes” referred to in the title are:

Preserving the present

Destroying the past

Building the future

In Hindu mythology, these “boxes” or cycles are represented by the three gods…

Box One is the box of Vishnu, the god of preservation, and his wife Lakshmi, who bestows wealth. By hanging on to the best of what’s already working and continuing to develop and streamline it, we ensure our businesses continue to thrive even as we experiment, innovate, and evolve into the future.

Box Two is the box of Shiva, the god of destruction, and his partner Parvathi, who symbolizes power. In order to unleash the full creative potential of the mind, we must first destroy the forms and thought-forms (assumptions) that stand in the way of moving forward like icebergs in an otherwise infinite ocean.

Box three is the box of Brahma, god of creation, and his beloved Saraswathi, goddess of creativity and knowledge. To truly innovate and “tilt the field” in any industry, you must be willing to go back to the drawing board as often as is needed and move forward through experimentation, progressive iterations, and successive approximations.

In other words:

  1. What do you want to maintain and improve?
  2. What do you want to leave behind?
  3. What do you want to create?

To give you an idea of how that played out for us, I’ll share our experience of exploring my upcoming book launch…

We began with a Box One question – what already works and how can we make it work better?

Here were some of the highlights from our initial list, based on five previous book launches:

  • Pushing for “instant bestseller” status by arranging a coordinated campaign of mailings and offers from our community, publisher, JV partners, and key influencers
  • Ad targeting on social media to relevant audiences
  • Bonuses for bulk purchase
  • Creating themed blog posts and radio shows throughout the launch period
  • Making me as available as possible to do as many interviews and podcasts as possible during that same period
  • Pursuing both mainstream media and social media outlets for maximum exposure

What was noteworthy in the room was the lack of any real enthusiasm around any of this. Instead, we all nodded a lot as if to say “yes, that’s what we do”. Which led to two Box Two questions that shook things up considerably.  The first was “how do we define success?”  The second was that while these are indeed the things we traditionally do, do they actually work to create what we define as success?

When success was formally defined as constant and perpetually increasing sales over time, the answer was an unflinching, uncomfortable, but undeniable “no”. While two of my books have continued to sell well over the years, the others burned bright and then faded into the back catalog. Which reduced our list of things worth preserving in Box One down to this:

  1. Write a good book
  2. Do what makes sense to do along the way

Here were some of the other assumptions we decided were worth leaving behind that emerged during our Box Two exploration:

  • The book isn’t enough on its own – without our hard work, nothing will happen
  • Fear of disappointment/laziness is a legitimate reason to do or not do something
  • Tight structure is essential if anything good is to happen
  • Pressure (or at least the threat of pressure) is essential if anything good is going to happen

Which then led us onto my favorite questions that I actually use in the Creating the Impossible book:

What would be cool? What would seem miraculous? What would make us gasp, grin, or giggle?

While we came up with a number of ideas, some of which you’ll find in your inbox and on social media over the next few months, here were the big three:

1. I’m declaring 2018 “the year of creating the impossible”. For me, that means we’re incorporating a year-long book launch into our business plan as opposed to the traditional 3-6 week wonder. For you (if you want to play along), it means I’m inviting you to join a brand new Facebook group called A Year of Creating the Impossible #dailycreation

You’ll find instructions in the group, but essentially we’re asking people to create something from nothing every single day for the next year and posting it (or more likely a picture of it) to the FB group. If that sounds impossible that’s kind of the point – this book is all about making the impossible possible!

As an incentive to get you started (for those of you who like such things), I’ll be doing a FB live each weekday from the 2nd – 21st of January giving a prize to our favorite creation of the day, ranging from a signed copy of the book to a place on the Creating the Impossible 2018 online program to at least one coaching session with me either online or at my home in Los Angeles.

2. If you’ve got a community of 500 people or more, write to us at launchingtheimpossible@michaelneill.org with the phrase “Impossibly Wonderful Community” in the header and we’ll set up a brainstorm with you for how we can support you and your community in creating the impossible in 2018 and beyond. (If you’ve got a smaller community or no community at all but you’d still like to help spread the word, please put the phrase “I’m In!” into the header and we’ll get back to you with some fun ideas in the days and weeks to come!

3. I’m going to do three things every weekday through the end of next year to promote the book in whatever way occurs to me in the moment. Which means worst case, I’ll have done 750+ fun things to share this book with the world, not one of which I have to know about in advance. Thank goodness there’s an in the moment responsive intelligence in the universe that’s 100% reliable even though it’s 98% unpredictable what form it will take until it takes it…

Have fun, learn heaps, please sign up for the #dailycreation Facebook group and start sharing, and leave any additional thoughts and reflections in the comments section below!

With all my love,
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