They said it was impossible. On February 22, 1980, the United States Hockey Team, comprised mostly of college players, did just that. They defeated the defending “invincible” champions, the favorites to win the Olympic gold medal, the Soviet Union squad, by 4-3 at Lake Placid. Coached by former player Herb Brooks; the story was captured in the 2004 movie starring Kurt Russell, Miracle.
Between 1960 and 1970 Herb Brooks set a record by playing on a total of eight U.S. national and Olympic teams. Hand-picking his Olympic team for the 1980 games, he chose several of his Minnesota players as well as many from their arch rival, Boston University. To compete with the leading Soviet Union team specifically, Brooks developed a hybrid of American, Canadian and faster European styles, emphasizing creativity and teamwork.
This last item was a difficult given a cutthroat competition between the University of Minnesota and Boston University players. Without trust among team members, the U.S. squad had zero chance of winning.
Brooks also stressed peak conditioning, believing that one of the reasons the Soviet team had dominated international competition was that many of their opponents were simply exhausted by the third period.
Winning with Constraints v. 1
Herb Brooks used Conversation Imagination. Not that he called it that, but he asked how he could get hardcore hockey rivals to play together….and play to win against the strongest team in the world: a bold ambition bound to significant constraints.
Ambition without constraints tends to go nowhere interesting. Your constraints are there to help you innovate and succeed.
Brooks used a communication strategy not to force friendships, not to be the buddy of everyone, but rather to make himself the common enemy (and coach). He what I call “Conversation Imagination” to develop his unique hybrid playing style, by asking “how can we beat the Soviets with our specific limitations?”
Conversation Imagination is a process to achieve specific-but-improbable or impossible goals given equally specific limitations. Like winning a car race when your car does not go faster than the others.
Conversation Imagination is about getting A LOT more value from your communication. It’s a specific, goal-oriented conversation.
Winning with Constraints v. 2
Audi, a traditional participant in the elite Le Mans car race, wanted to win but from a creative (meaning non conventional) strategic advantage. Audi’s Chief Engineer asked his team how they could develop a winning strategy that did not include going faster.
They focused first on making pit stops shorter, but broke through these incremental savings of a few seconds to develop an alternate engine that ran on diesel fuel, the R10 TDI. Engines that run on diesel can go much further than traditional engines. So the car needed fewer pit stops. And Audi won with that car in 2006, 2007 AND 2008.
Officially defined, conversation imagination is a process, sparked by launch pad, or propelling questions, that drives actions to achieve something previously unconsidered, or thought to be impossible. It’s accessible to anyone, any project, any organization.
Consider the last several problems that you have solved. Probably across all of these problems you used similar
- Terms to define the issues
- Data sources
- Colleagues to help you
- Places to look for solutions
- Criteria to evaluate options
- Measures of success
In other words, you have a path of success that has gotten you to where you are. Going beyond to reach your new goals requires a new path that you probably can’t see right now. That’s what Conversation Imagination is about (aka breaking path dependence and boring conversations).
This topic is covered in Mixonian’s Innovation Drivers Learning Lab.