How our collaboration began

The collaboration that produced this book began with a conversation at a Christmas party. A mutual friend suggested that we meet to investigate the overlap in our backgrounds and interests. Our lives had already intersected in several ways in the community where we live. In the mid-1990s, I coached Tim’s son in AYSO soccer. Our wives both play in the Handbell Choir at our church. What we hadn’t previously done was compare notes on our professional backgrounds and experiences.

Tim was flying between Chicago and North Carolina where he was working with a client. He used the flights to mine his experiences using the tools and practices he had learned during his time at ITW and was refining with his client. He produced an early version of the manuscript that evolved into Think Inside the Box. The approach always produced excellent results when properly implemented. Tim was trying to answer three questions:

  • Why weren’t more organizations routinely doing 80/20 analysis?
  • Why were organizations reluctant to implement the seemingly simple changes needed to reap clear rewards?
  • Why were the straightforward tools and techniques he had learned not taught, while more esoteric concepts with limited application filled classes, seminars, workshops, and journals?

Meanwhile, I had wandered across the boundary between practice and theory again. I was teaching a newly designed graduate course on organizational change. I was looking at a related set of questions:

  • How is the practice of organizational change evolving when change is the norm rather than the exception in today’s competitive, dynamic, and global, economy?
  • Why are organizations slow to adopt new knowledge about using data and information to make more effective decisions?
  • How do you connect insights to sustained, effective, action in complex organizations?

Our mix of interests and experience led us to tackle these questions from a pragmatic perspective. The changing economics of data processing and software technology make the tools for this work affordable and accessible to organizations of virtually any scale. And the essence of connecting insight to action depends on effectively engaging those with the power to implement change in the process of developing insights from the evidence. 

We think the ideas here are pretty straightforward. They aren’t always explained as clearly as they might and they aren’t generally pulled together in one place. The book is our effort to do both. This blog and the web give us a place to close the loop with others interested in the same issues, continue the conversation, and make it even simpler.