Constipation Rules: An Innovative Solution?

Constipation Rules: An Innovative Solution? 1024 768 The Body Corporate

Have you ever been in the restroom when somebody is speaking on his or her cellphone? It can be downright embarrassing. I’m probably breaching some corporate etiquette in sharing this story. “What happens behind the white door should stay behind the white door.” If you have a delicate constitution, do not read on ….

John and I were washing our hands in the men’s room of a Fortune 100 company. It was the senior executive suite. White marble and shiny gold faucets with country club hand towels and a disposal basket that you could have hidden an entire village in. We were enjoying a break in the annual strategy session. We were aware that somebody was behind one of the big white doors, so we were discussing trivia like the weather and the upcoming Super Bowl. The gentleman’s phone had rung, and we had heard his low grunt as he answered. Our colleague Jason entered through the squeaky door, and I guess the occupant thought we had all vacated the room. Before any of us could say another word, his voice boomed a frustrated explanation.

“It won’t move. I’ve been trying for the longest time.”

We looked at each other with wide eyes and red faces.

“I’ve been pushing and pushing, but nothing! Not a darned thing!”

By now, we were trapped. I could read my colleagues’ minds. Should we walk out quickly, coughing loudly? Should we act like nothing happened, dry our hands and keep talking? We should have done this right away. It was too late now. So we all stood motionless; frozen statues on the horns of an enormous dilemma. It sounded like the CEO, and he hadn’t been at all happy through the first part of the meeting. Perhaps this explained his foul mood!

“I’m doing my best. I’ve been patient, but can’t be any longer. It hurts me, deep inside my belly. I’ve tried and tried, but nothing more than a few false starts!”

I tried to distract myself with thoughts of the meeting. I was on the verge of bursting into laughter. Not good. So I took myself through the morning agenda. The board was angry. They had set the company an innovation target at the annual meeting, but the CEO had failed. He had brought us in. We were hotshot consultants with a track record of success in innovation. We reviewed the metrics. R&D budget was at a record high, but the number of new products was down and revenue from new products was below target.

I was interrupted by another outburst. “I’ve done everything by the book, but here I am sitting like a fool. Pushing like mad, but nothing to show for it.”

Wow, there it was. Now we understood the CEO’s pained expression and wide eyes. I felt a little sympathy for a man I didn’t really like. I started to think about constipation. How could we help? Did he understand normal bowel function? We must have a PowerPoint deck to help him. Did he know that the bowel is a very delicate organ, surrounded by a web of sensitive nerves? Did he understand that you couldn’t force it into action? You’re far better creating a healthy, relaxed environment, allowing the smooth muscle to get on with its job. Did he realize that shouting and getting angry are counter-productive?

He was getting frustrated again. “Yes, I’ve already answered that question! Of course I understand how it works. Of course I know what I should be doing. I know that I should ease off rather than trying to force it. It didn’t work, so now all I can do is push like heck!”

Did he hear my thoughts? I looked at my colleagues. John was standing ashen-faced. Jason was looking away, trying not to laugh. I could see he was shaking. I forced my mind back to the meeting to avoid the loud guffaw building in my throat. When we first arrived at the company six months ago we had presented a description of innovative culture. We always start by explaining lightning. Every CEO agrees that they’re looking for dramatic results, like the brilliant flashes in an electric storm. What they don’t realize is that you can’t force lightning. You can enable it by creating a polarity difference between earth and clouds. Once the difference in electric charge is substantial, then lightning erupts spontaneously with impressive results.

The CEO burst out again, with no attempt to conceal his anger now. “Yes, I have sought advice! Do you think I’m trying to do this all alone? I’ve consulted the best, and I’ve taken their advice, but they don’t understand. I’m still left here with the problem. Pushing like crazy. You think I’m enjoying this?”

I forced myself to look at the wall, but I could still see Jason out of the corner of my eye. I think he had his tie stuffed into his mouth, and he was leaning against the door shaking. I had to focus on our business challenge. After describing that lightning analogy, we explained how it was the same with innovation. It can’t be forced. You have to create the climate for it. People have to be inspired and rewarded. You have to remove the fear of making mistakes. You have to provide a rich, bulky diet of affirmation. You have to give permission for experimentation. Then you have to lubricate the system. You have to allow good ideas to rapidly get the senior attention they deserve. Best practices need to move rapidly across the organization where colleagues can celebrate and apply novel solutions. Finally, we always joke that exercise helps. By this we mean that the CEO has to get out of his or her elite office space and walk the floor, looking for new ideas, and affirming experimenters.

The CEO was almost shouting by now. “I have hired three of the city’s smartest consultants. They are here for the entire strategy meeting. They’re not helping at all. I need more power. I’m sure I’ll get it moving soon. I just need to force it along.”

That was all we could take. Frankly, we didn’t care about our jobs anymore. We were obviously working with a loser and failure was imminent. Jason burst out the door first, tears streaming down his face. Echo’s of laughter shattered the air of the restroom before erupting like a volcano into the plush carpeted reception area. We tried to compose ourselves long enough to pack our bags. Jason, the lead on this project looked at the executive team, by now assembled and waiting for the return of their CEO. He took a deep breath to compose himself. His parting words to the leadership team went something like this: “We have realized that your CEO and the company have the same problem. Good luck!”

On the way back to our offices we laughed until our bellies ached. Then Jason got the text message. It was from the President of our group. “She wants to see us in her office as soon as we’re back.” We rode the rest of the way in silence. Her assistant greeted us in the lobby and escorted us to the 53rd floor. We entered the giant wood-paneled office to see the back of her chair. Her gray hair seemed more tightly knotted than usual. Her shoulders seemed tight. We could only imagine the look on her face. “What happened,” she asked?

Jason stammered our collective response. “We think that the CEO is impeding the company’s progress. We have tried to teach them how to generate a culture of innovation. We have failed. We believe the company is morbidly constipated!” This was more than John and I could handle. We collapsed into two soft leather loungers, our mirth uncontrollable. She turned her chair and we saw the broad grin across her face. “I know”, she said. “I have just heard from MaryAnne, my friend who heads up their HR. After you burst out of the meeting, the CEO walked into the boardroom. He was bright red. He had just come off a call with the Chairman of the Board. He had tried to argue that he needed more time to pull off the transformation. The board was adamant and fired him.” We looked at each other, speechless. “Please head right back there first thing in the morning. I think you’re going to see the movement we’ve all been waiting for”!

Have fun,


(Roddy Carter is an executive consultant who uses nature to provide analogues for human organizational structure and function. Through the BioSimilar Programs he helps organizations select and learn from a species or environment that closely resembles their own circumstances. This is a fun way to build and implement strategy and to enhance performance. Please reach out through the connect tab at if you’d like to explore a BioSimilar Program in your organization.)

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