Don’t Make a Resolution. Ask Yourself This Question Instead

The question can lead you to unexpected, innovative places

Nov 26, 2018
Management and Organization

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Maryland Smith’s Oliver Schlake has a question for you. It’s nearly the end of the year, and he knows you’ll soon be taking stock of your work and your life. It’s a naturally contemplative time of the year, after all. He knows you’ll be setting some goals, making resolutions.

He wants to ask you this: What’s the most outrageous thing you’ll do next year? Schlake, a clinical professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, has been asking this question for some time.

The question has the tendency to make his students and his consulting clients smile, then make them think, then think deeper. It’s powerful.

“It’s part of a book I’m writing now,” Schlake confesses. “I’ve been developing this concept for a couple of years, exploring what I call the nine faces of ‘champions.’” Schlake is a futurist and management consultant, as well as a professor. His clients tend to obsess about innovation, and Schlake does too. It’s a place where outrageousness is very much at home.

The nine faces of champions, he explains, encapsulate the human skills, actions and mindsets that will be critical to survive and thrive in a world of artificial intelligence, interconnected devices and augmented reality. It’s the world of big data, autonomous vehicles and drones. It’s an innovative world, filled with realities that until recently mostly seemed outrageous.

"The word 'champions' has nine letters, and each of them stands for one element that is critical," he explains, as every revolution requires human evolution. “O” is for the outrager, an out-of-the-box ideator, he says, who forges a path that leads toward change.

"It is the 'O' that is critical, the outrageous ideation, because in this fourth industrial revolution, in this new world that we are living in, the ideas that will stand out, fortunately or unfortunately, will have to be among the more outrageous."

He encourages his students and his clients to reach for ideas that are "way outside of the box." When people respond to an idea by saying it's unrealistic or couldn't be implemented, he says, that may be a sign that you've hit upon a good outrageous idea.

"The outrageous idea offers an opportunity in creative problem solving, where you can bring an idea into the discussion that is very far outside of the norm. It forces you not just to extrapolate on the existing idea path," he says.

And it very often leads you to a place you didn't expect to go.

"I ask students and clients, what is the most outrageous idea you could use to solve this problem?" Schlake says.

Often, he says, the most outrageous idea is not a good idea. But it’s a starting point – a different starting point than they otherwise would have used – and it’s likely to result in different solutions.

“That’s useful,” Schlake says.

"In a recent keynote for a large organization, I basically asked, ‘What would we have to do to completely ruin this place in the next three to five years, completely, so that we can shut the whole operation down?’ People said, 'You are insane.'

"But if you think about this, and compare the things were are actually doing with the things that would actually purposely ruin the organization, maybe there is an alignment, maybe there is a lesson about where our focus should be. Let’s find out if we are an endangered species, based on our own actions."

The lesson, he says, is that you need to start at “outrageous” to end up as “great” or at least “good.”

"What is going to be the most outrageous thing you are going to do in the next year? And if you don't start with something outrageous, you’re going to end up in the middle of the road," he says.

And no one wants to be middle of the road.

"Middle of the road is for roadkill."




About the Expert(s)


Dr. Oliver Schlake is a Clinical Professor at Robert H. Smith School of Business, a senior business consultant, entrepreneur and researcher. His publications and research on scenario-based strategic planning and innovation strategy have been featured in leading academic and practitioner journals worldwide. Oliver has been an international management consultant and strategic advisor for leading companies and government agencies in Europe and North-America. Prior to joining the Smith School he was Assistant Professor for E-Business at National University, San Diego and CEO for German based consulting firm Scenario Management International (ScMI AG).

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