Your next breakthrough is hiding in plain sight

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

About a decade ago, I helped lead the turnaround of a major American restaurant chain. The company was just emerging from a brutal bankruptcy.

I’ll never forget the feeling at headquarters the first day I arrived. You could feel the heavy anxiety in the air. The tension on people’s faces. They had laid off over 30% of their staff.

One thought was written on everyone’s forehead: will I be next?

Everyone was playing it safe. Don’t rock the boat and try live to see another day, was the unspoken ethos. Just try to survive.

The “world” had changed and the executives desperately clung to how things used to be...

Trouble in the Hen House

As if things weren't bad enough, there were also outside factors at play. Pharmaceutical companies represented a huge portion of our catering business. New, stricter legislation had just been passed and the pharmaceutical companies could no longer sponsor catered lunches to doctors.

The “world” had changed and the executives desperately clung to how things used to be.

It was time to rethink our way forward. To do this, we applied a process developed by Edward de Bono called lateral thinking.

6-Steps to Pivoting

1. Creating a Safe Place

We began by creating a safe place where any idea could be shared without judgement, reproach or criticism. All ideas were fair game.

2. Defining a new question

"A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer." ~ Edward Hodnett

We needed to create a new creative focus.

By going through the process, our question went from:

"How do we get the pharmaceutical clients back?"


"How does our food become a regular part of people’s lives?"

3. Ideation - Formation of new ideas and concepts

"Often, the day before something is a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea." ~ Peter Diamandis

Ideation is the creative process of generating new ideas. With our judgement postponed, we generate the maximum volume of ideas. All is possible at this stage. I’m not satisfied until we have come up with at least 100 new ideas. Done right, it’s both an energizing and exhaustive process.

4. Pre-Selection of ideas

After generating lots of new and different ideas, we could now begin to filter and short-list the ones that resonate the most. What are the ideas that gave us a special feeling? The interesting part is, everyone already knew what they were, because when they were first yelled out – the group paused and went silent for a moment. Everyone could feel it.

5. Fine-Tuning of ideas

It was time to put our “critical hats” back on. What works, what doesn’t? How can the ideas be improved?

6. Action plan for execution

Now, we divvy the tasks, and test, learn, iterate and repeat.

We’ve asked a new question, generated a plethora of ideas. We picked our favorites, got practical and calibrated them. The best, and most important part is, we co-created.

The buy-in was inherent in the process.

So, how did it all end?

We rolled-out three new concepts:

  1. Catering Subscriptions. Companies, like car dealerships would buy a subscription to catered meals. We’d sign them up for 6-months to a year. For example, on Saturdays were big for sales and they always ordered out for their team. Once a month they had our delicious meals delivered to them subscription-plan meant a big discount and not having to repeat the ordering process every time.

  2. Home Delivery. We began delivering meals to people’s homes. Bear in mind, this was in 2011, three years before UberEats launched.

  3. Combination of both. Families would outsource dinners to us once a week or so. For example: Wednesday nights, we delivered dinner and even in some cases, helped set-up the table. Our meals had become part of people’s regular lives.

Not only did we come up with new ways forward, this helped shift the mood of the teams. They realized that once we took a step back and adopted a new perspective, there were so many opportunities in front of us. We went from surviving to thriving.

Change is constant and the world as we knew it is evolving once again.

What new question are you asking?

Your next breakthroughs are hiding in plain sight.

Ahad Ghadimi is the author of Building Remote Working Relationships: The Forums@Work Process – check it out at:

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