How do we Challenge the Norm?

A few days ago, India watched with bated breath as the spirited quartet of Hima Das, M R Poovamma, Saritaben Gayakwad and Vismaya Velluva Koroth sprinted their way to a gold medal in the 4x400m relay at the Asiad Games 2018 in Jakarta. While the nation cheered, the commentators pointed to the rather unusual strategy that the Indian team followed in this race.

In most relay events, the general norm is to put the fastest runner in the last leg, so that they have a chance to catch up and compensate for any lag and make the winning dash. The Indian team turned this strategy on its head by putting its fastest runner, Hima Das, at the start of the race instead of the last leg. The strategy worked beautifully because Hima was able to give the team such a powerful head-start that the other teams simply couldn’t bridge the gap. You can watch the video here:


The actions of the relay team stood out for two reasons.

  1. They dared to think differently
  2. They decided to implement the new strategy knowing fully well that it could backfire. They were not afraid to take the risk.

This willingness to go ahead and take calculated risks is an important quality needed to succeed in today’s world. In sports as well as in business, sometimes, simply challenging basic assumptions can be the secret to success. There are several such inspiring examples all around us. Airbnb challenged the notion that you need to own hotel properties to be a leader in the hospitality industry. Closer home, Chai Point is a great example of out of the box thinking because it completely redefined the idea of the neighbourhood chaiwallah.

Some practices and approaches become almost like a default because someone found them effective, and everyone else just decided to stick with them because they work. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with following best practices. After all, the reason they are so popular is that they are tried and tested and known to work. However, the danger arises when you stop questioning the status quo and use it as an excuse to stop applying your mind.

So, what should organisations do to ensure that they never lose their ‘out of the box’ thinking cap? Here are a few approaches that might work.

Go back to the basics

Revisit the basic organisational objectives at regular intervals and review all processes and structures to determine if they are indeed driving the company towards these objectives. For instance, instead of a huge annual company conference that brings together all customers under one roof, smaller industry-wise events spread across the year may be a better way to serve your customers.

Encourage questions

Your employees are often the best source of new ideas given that they are closer to the ground and may interact more frequently with customers. Encouraging employees to question and challenge company processes may seem like an inconvenience while running the day to day operations; but it is the most effective way to grow.

Regularise the review process

Most of the time, organisations get so caught up in running the show on a daily basis that they don’t get opportunities to step back and check if there is room for improvement. Proactively setting a regular review process forces people to step back and apply themselves, thereby opening up several opportunities for positive change.

Sure, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. But maybe there is a way to do away with the wheel altogether? Challenging the status quo is the only way to grow and reach greater heights.