“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
Outsiders ask a lot of questions because they don’t presume to know how things work or why something is done a certain way. They don’t know what is “unquestionable.” They aren’t held hostage by history because they have no history. They aren’t shackled by “we can’t” because they don’t know “we can’t.”
Is it a stretch for insiders to think like outsiders? Sure. The good news is that you can borrow a page from the Ratan Tata playbook. You can develop an outsider’s mind-set through the discipline of questioning the unquestionable.
What is “unquestionable?” Deeply embedded worldviews.
What is “unquestionable?” What people believe is absolutely impossible.
Everybody knew that it was impossible to build a real car for 1 lakh rupees. And yet the Nanovators did it.
We now know that a person with the most technical expertise doesn’t always make the best leader; that an individual can work from home and be just a productive as a person logging face time in a cubicle; and that it is possible to build an incredibly successful business with no bosses, no hierarchy, and no rules.
We know these things because … someone questioned the unquestionable.
Find a Burning Question and Pour Gasoline on It
Do you have to be a creative genius to engage in Nanovation? No. But you do have to be curious enough to ask questions others aren’t asking. You do have to be inclined to explore the unusual and investigate things that at first glance, might appear to be off-the-wall, like building a plastic car for 1 lakh or distributing that car in kits to be assembled at satellite facilities.
You have to be fired by a burning question.
We remember being young graduate students just starting a Masters program at San Diego State University when Steve King, the chairman of the Speech Communication Department confronted us. “What’s your burning question?” he asked, “You should come here to study because you have a critical question, that when answered, will advance the field of communication.”
In time, our burning question became this: “What’s the difference between a really great company and everybody else? And how can we teach people to build great organizations?”
Ratan Tata’s burning question, in the case of the Nano, was this: “What if we could give these people safe transportation they could afford?”