Nilofer Merchant, CEO of Rubicon Consulting, argues that if organizations want to be innovative they should stop hiring the same type of people just to meet the requirements of the job position:
It seems to me we ought to also know how to get diverse points of view into the system, because that is what allows us to see things from different angles and fundamentally shift our approach from seeing the problem the way it’s always been seen (and thus unsolved, one could presume) and see it afresh to create the shift in viewpoint that allows for a new creative act.
I think she makes a very important point, hiring an outsider or bringing in someone who is 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. For example Henry Ford West Bloomfield is a well known hospital in the Detroit area, they recently built the first hotel since it’s founding in 1915. The new hospital is anything but a hospital, it was built on a set of ideas meant to redefine what’s possible in healthcare and to do this they brought in an outsider to spearhead the project:
Gerard van Grinsven, West Bloomfield’s CEO, joined Henry Ford after a long career with Ritz-Carlton, where he opened 20 properties around the world, served as VP of food and beverage, and led a turnaround of the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn. Talk about breakthrough thinking: Henry Ford recruited a senior hospitality executive to run a hospital that would take healthcare on a new trajectory.
What they essentially did was bring in a new pair of fresh eyes with a different set of skills into the equation:
“I had a fresh pair of eyes and no baggage when I arrived,” van Grinsven explains. “The challenge today is to deliver a level of service comparable to the best hotels in the world, to create a mystique that encourages people to seek us out. But the bigger challenge, the real opportunity for reinvention, is to rethink the role of a hospital. How do we position ourselves as a community center for well-being — as a destination that helps everyone to lead a healthier life?”
The article is well worth reading to give you an idea of the power of the outsider. Of course, any change in directions comes with it’s fair share of challenges, and none more powerful than convincing others to adopt our idea. As established people will most likely reject the idea of bringing in an outsider, and you’ll have to fight this human tendency.
A few months back we were asked for a proposal to rebrand an executive outsourcing company’s brand. My lead on the inside told me they were very traditional, but that she had convinced the ‘decision makers’ to try something different. Given the green light, we brainstormed ideas and came up with something new, submitted it, they liked the direction we were going and told us to keep going. We kept tweaking. This went on for about 2 weeks, and then out of nowhere, they said they were looking to work with a firm that understood their industry, and so we got kicked off the train.
This is a constant challenge because just like people, businesses are also entrenched in a dominant mindset of how things should be, and bringing in and listening to a fresh perspective is not something we’re comfortable doing. Problem with this is that 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 outsiders point of view. Someone who doesn’t carry the same beliefs of how things are supposed to be.
People who know me well have grown used to hear me repeat a very powerful quote over and over again precisely to help people remember to change their perspective. So, repeat after me:
“Where all think alike nobody thinks very much.” – Walter Lippman