25 Oct 2016 17:56 IST

Pushing the envelope is important for firms

Pic credit: alphaspirit/Shutterstock

Organisations need to go beyond what is believed to be normal and push the boundaries to outperform

Rewind to India of early 2014. Could you have imagined at that time, the following scenario playing out?

“Over 1 crore relatively well-off Indians have given up their LPG subsidy only because of an appeal, not through coercion or law. The savings are being used to partly finance free LPGs to five crore needy families, so that women can avoid the health-hazard of smoke.

“Opening of over 21 crore new bank accounts, for those who were earlier without access to banking, is helping in targeting subsidies better to the really needy, and preventing leakages. These bank accounts are also being used to disburse small loans to people for generating livelihoods and for directing insurance schemes that are partly funded by the governments.

“Aadhar enrolments have crossed the 100 crore mark, making it the world’s largest personal identity database. Aadhar enables better subsidy targeting.”

India has been “pushing the envelope” as they say.

Fast forward

… to some time in the near future. Imagine:

Scene 1: You are away on a business trip. In your hotel room, you turn to your Facebook newsfeed, put on your Oculus VR (Virtual Reality) headset and catch up with your daughter’s birthday party which you missed. You have joined the party — well, almost. You not only see and hear the action, but you also record yourself into the party video and send it back to your family. Your daughter’s birthday is, in a sense, complete.

Scene 2: You are in a furniture showroom. You try on that lovely sofa set and that classy bar by virtually placing it in your living room. Doing so, you know that they look good and fit perfectly well in the available space.

Some companies push the envelope to bring to us completely new and better ways of doing some thing.

Cut to present

You are discussing your product launch plan and surprisingly, everything seems to be in control. Your team is on course for a smooth product launch. It’s a known game for your team, since it has launched many products in the last one year. You have ironed out many wrinkles and squashed potential glitches by invoking Murphy’s Laws.

Your boss walks in, and after being satisfied that everything is in order, he says, “Guys, what I see looks like a good job. But why don’t we (your team) push the envelope this time?” He pauses, gets up, and while leaving says, “Get back to me if you need anything.”

Did you get what your boss just said? You have to figure out whether pushing the envelope means advancing the launch date or achieving several X time on the ground activation level. You also have to figure out how you will do it.

Performance envelope

Individuals, groups, and organisations usually end up in little envelopes of performance, which act as standards for lower (what is the minimum acceptable) and upper limits (what they think is possible).

This happens by habit. Most times, this habit is also quite economical. You don’t wish to get up every day and set your goals from scratch. You know what you have been doing and if that is good enough, you try and stick to it, unless someone else is upsetting the balance by doing it more, faster, or better. As your envelope gets more and more comfortable, you live in it. Trying new things and bettering yourself becomes rarer.

Some individuals may get bored with the self-imposed envelope and try to ‘push’ it. But organisations don’t get bored. Unless they are threatened by external events or are challenged to perform by their leaders, they stay where they are.

If ‘benchmarking’ makes you aware of where others are and motivates you to achieve at least their level, ‘pushing the envelope’ means going well beyond what is believed to be normal.