The Key to Overcoming Roadblocks: Innovation

March 29, 2011  

In Wisconsin, the Republicans wanted to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of most public employees as a way of cutting the budget. This was hotly contested by the Democrats to the point where all 14 Democratic senators left the state, refusing to vote. They did this knowing that at least 20 senators needed to be present during votes authorizing the use of money. This meant that the Republicans would be one person shy of a quorum.

What was the Republican’s creative solution?

They met in a committee to strip several financial elements of the bill and argued that the quorum rule no longer applied as a result. The bill then quickly passed and was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker.

This caught the self-exiled Democrats off guard.

What did the Republicans so skillfully do that made this coup d’état a reality? They were innovative about the way they achieved their objectives.

Typically, when we think about creativity, we tend to focus on the result: the new product, process, service or business model. But sometimes it is incredibly powerful to innovate the means in which you implement your solutions.

Another recent example of this involves the National Football League (NFL). The NFL owners and players have been in arbitration, trying to resolve disputes over how to split the $9 billion in annual income. When the collective bargaining agreement expired, the owners instituted a league-wide lockout. As a result, the players no longer had health insurance, were not paid, and were banned from entering any team facilities or having contact with any team staff.

What was the creative response of the players?

They “decertified” the players union (the NFLPA). By eliminating the union, the NFL was then considered a monopoly. This allowed the players to invoke the Sherman Act, a federal antitrust statute limiting monopolies, which paved the way for the players to file a class action lawsuit seeking triple the amount of damages they’ve incurred.

Change the rules of the game

I’m not making a statement for or against either side or the actions they took. Nor am I an attorney, so there may be subtleties of the laws that I am missing.

Regardless, in both of these cases, the parties involved recognized that they could “alter” the rules of the game. In doing so, they took actions that might have otherwise been unforeseen. The Republicans caught the Democrats off guard by removing the financial elements of the bill. And although this was expected, the NFL players took steps that allowed them to take legal action that was not previously allowed.

This is a powerful lesson for businesses of any size…

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