Innovation needs outsiders. Here’s how to source them


The most interesting ideas, the ones that span boundaries, are found and at the intersection of domains. This isn’t a new insight, but it is one that is rarely taken into account inside most businesses.

True to form, established businesses suffer from the Curse of Knowledge: I already know what I need to know. The expertise on which they built their business blinds organizations from creating the future, it’s the reason many businesses that were thriving at the beginning of this century are no longer with us.

How do you break free from the Curse of Knowledge?

By shifting perspective…

A closed mind has one perspective. It holds true for individuals, as well as organizations, and it is usually developed because of expertise. There is an advantage in relying on expertise because experts take shortcuts to solutions. But innovation based on expertise is usually of the incremental type; optimization.

Breakthroughs, on the other hand, create new markets. Those come from acts of imagination and courage, creating what was once was considered impossible.

What we know limits what we can imagine

When we want to innovate we have to stop looking in the same place we’ve always looked before, we have to switch our view and look elsewhere for insights that are invisible to us. One way to see the invisible is to ask for an outsider’s point of view: someone who doesn’t carry the same beliefs of how things are supposed to be.

Typically, inside large organizations the smartest person in the room the highest paid because of seniority; not so. The smartest person in the room isn’t the one with the most expertise; it’s the one with the ability to shift perspective.

With that said, how do you source outsiders? Here are a few ideas you can take action on:

  • Start and maintain a network of diverse people. Today, with social networks like Twitter, it is very easy to find and source outsiders. A simple and easy tactic is to create a Twitter list of interesting people from all walks of life.
  • Hire or invite outsiders. Hiring an outsider or bringing in someone who hasn’t worked in your industry, who has no experience in what you do can bring in a fresh perspective that can yield new insights. You want Zero Gravity Thinkers, people who are far enough from the challenge but that can still add a fresh perspective.
  • Take a step back and shift your perspective. If you don’t have immediate access to outsiders, ask yourself; how might _insert name of someone here_ see this challenge? What would he/she do?
  • Broaden your skill set relentlessly. Hang out and learn from people who work in different domains than the one you work in. Ask questions, find out how they solve problems, figure out how you can adapt their skill set to your domain. The point is to never stop learning!

Bottom line: The two main killers of innovation are expert think and group think. They are a constant we must overcome; one way to do that is by bringing in a fresh perspective to the table. There is tremendous power of an outsider for innovation.

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