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As a Melbournian, I have something shocking to admit. I don’t drink coffee. Well, not often. In fact, I could count the amount of coffees I’ve had this year on two hands. True story! I may very well be the new wave of hipster. A true individual. Amazingly, the rest of my fellow Aussies are drinking 9.2 cups of coffee a week – and that’s only an average. I marvel at how a simple coffee bean has shaped a huge facet of many people’s day to day. It’s both a social lubricant and productivity current of our western culture. Places like Melbourne run on the stuff. Stay with me – there is a link to innovation soon, I promise.

What if I was to tell you that one of the most dominant coffee houses in the world, Starbucks, actually spends more money on their staff healthcare insurance than they do on coffee beans? Just as surprising is how their staff are encouraged to get a (non coffee related) education. Starbucks actually hire staff who don’t have a college education and then they pay for them to get a college education. Shareholders of the global powerhouse must be asking ‘what is going on?’ As it turns out, Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, is a person who likes challenging the status quo. And this is where the bit about innovation comes in…

Along with a range of skills, the ability to challenge the status quo is a critical part of a successful innovator’s toolkit. It’s about not accepting ‘how things are done’ (even if ingrained) and seeking better ways of doing things. It requires calling out assumptions and stepping over and around them to give way to new thinking and ideas. Howard Schultz is a shining illustration of this. He fights the status quo not only within Starbucks, but also in broader society. The fact that the company pays for staff college education is a result of this. Let me explain. Schultz noted that the American education system is one of inequality and one that is leaving people behind – “do we leave it as status quo or do something about it?”  Rather then leave it up to the system, Schultz has made Starbucks part of the solution through the College Achievement Plan program. The program includes full tuition fee coverage for all four years of college and has been offered to more than 140,000 employees. While helping to address a societal issue, this innovative program has arguably increased engagement and loyalty within the Starbucks workforce.

Whether you are looking to challenge the status quo on a society level like Howard Schultz, or on an internal or incremental level, the moral of the story is, do it! Here are some tips to get you started:

•       Crush your assumptions: Identify your assumptions around a problem you are solving. E.g. why it is a problem? Or, what ideas are assumed best to solve it? From here ask yourself what if the opposite was true and use this to create a completely new reality for your idea generation.

•       Don’t sit idle: Don’t accept the next time someone says ‘this is just how things are done around here’. Ask for an explanation to unearth the old ways of thinking (which will be riddled with assumptions, no doubt) and use this as juice to put an alternative forward.

•       Bring in fresh eyes: When problem solving or generating ideas bring in someone who has no experience with the topic. Bringing in fresh eyes is a great way to ensure you avoid the status quo. Creative agency Wieden+Kennedy do this really well.

Do you have a story of challenging the status quo? Or perhaps you were as daring to order a milkshake instead of a latte? Please do get in touch.

And, if you want to learn more about the ASU Online – Starbucks partnership, you can read more here.