Here’s a funny story that I bet the fellas in Radical Nation will be able to relate to: I can STILL remember the day that I got my first pair of boxer shorts. I was 12, and I’d just discovered that ALL the cool kids were rocking boxers in the locker room before seventh grade gym class. Me — being half dork and all nerd — felt WAY out of place in my uncomfortably white and uncomfortably tight Fruit-of-the-Looms.
So I talked my mom into taking me to K-Mart. Lied about needing some poster board for a project. Made a bee-line for the boxers the minute we walked through the door. Was completely blown away by the colors and styles and choices and designs available and BEGGED my mom to buy me a pair or two.
I walked out prouder than I probably should have been after buying underpants, but as I’d explained to my mom, this WASN’T ABOUT underpants. It was about fitting in — and fitting in was impossible for the dorky kids wearing briefs in a boxer world.
The next day was huge. HUGE. I rolled out of bed, pulled on a pair of plaid boxers and headed to school feeling like a new man! By second period, though, I discovered what MOST guys realize: Boxers are AWFUL. The wedgies were brutal, my butt was sweating more than I thought possible, and I was limping through the halls with badly chaffed thighs.
(Is that too much information?)
Not wanting to surrender my place among the social elite, I toughed it out in boxers for the better part of a painful decade. I wasn’t happy about it, but tightie-whities weren’t going to win me any friends and I knew it.
My life changed in a deep and meaningful way in the early 90s, though. That’s when I discovered Boxer Briefs. I was in a Target store picking up some new socks when I saw them. Literally did a double-take. Had to look at the package a little closer than I was comfortable with to figure out just what a “boxer brief” was. Bought a package with hope in my heart that my days in uncomfortable underpants were over.
Being a skeptic, I wouldn’t let myself believe until I got home and slipped into what HAVE GOT to be the most comfortable drawers in the world! Who would have thought that something as simple as pairing the length of the boxer with the comfort fit of the brief could change lives? The dude that invented them should be granted Sainthood immediately.
And the dude who invented them — let’s call him Boxer Brief Guy — knows how innovation REALLY works.
He started by identifying a VERY real challenge: Men need to wear underpants, but tightie-whities are completely uncool and boxers are completely uncomfortable. Instead of dreaming up an entirely new solution to an admittedly strange conundrum, however — instead of dreaming up skin-tight body suits made from the pelts of corn-fed camels raised on corporate farms in the Midwest or spray-on undergear paired with ‘freshly pressed from our can to yours’ as a marketing slogan — he embraced the strengths of the well-established solutions and hit a clothing home run.
Stew in that for a minute would you? There’s literally NOTHING new or complicated or brilliant or amazing about boxer briefs — the core cuts and fabrics and lengths and fits were borrowed from existing designs — and yet they changed EVERYTHING.
THAT’s the lesson for school leaders: Innovation is evolutionary, not revolutionary , y’all. If you want to change your school, STOP thinking outside of the box and START by figuring out what you are already doing well. Better yet, look to the organizations around you, figure out what THEY are doing well, and create a new product built from strategies and solutions that you know already resonate with parents, teachers and students.
and uncomfortable-in-more-ways-than-one story short: You don’t need to be a creative genius to drive meaningful improvements in your community. You need to be the Boxer Brief Guy.
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