Smart Leadership: The View from Outside

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This weekend I’ll be in Utah speaking to a group of credit union leaders. Although I’m a credit union member, I’m not a credit union leader, nor do I work in the credit union industry.

Next week I’ll be in Michigan speaking to the staff of a company that makes, among other things, high-end wheelchairs. Although my sister uses a high-end wheelchair, I don’t work in the wheelchair industry.

The following week I’ll be in Tacoma speaking to a large health insurance organization. Although I have health insurance, I don’t work in the health insurance industry.

So why are all these organizations spending good money to bring somebody in who doesn’t even work in their industry?

It’s because they’re smart. Not necessarily because they’re bringing me in (although I of course have an opinion on the matter). No, they’re smart because they’re bringing somebody in from outside their industry.

As a motivational and leadership speaker, I attend a lot of industry conferences. Most of the people speaking at these conferences are industry insiders—and that’s as it should be. You need to convene with, and stay in touch with, others in your industry. You need to know what’s working and what’s not working for them. You need to know how they solved that problem that you’re currently experiencing. It’s good to hang out with your own industry insiders.

But it’s not good to hang out with just your own industry insiders. That’s because industry insiders look at the world through the industry lens. They tend to see things the same way, perhaps with minor variations. Even if they don’t mean to, they will look at a situation and subconsciously think, “Well, here’s how we handle that in this industry.” And for some situations, that may be enough.

But if you really need a breakthrough idea—an idea that nobody else would come up with, an idea that is stunningly original and creative, an idea that could revolutionize the way you do things—you need to look outside. Because the view from outside is different. An outsider sees the world—and your situation—through a different set of lenses, a different set of experiences.

[Tweet “To seek those outside ideas—that’s just good business.”] When I speak to that large health insurance organization in Tacoma, I can say to them, “Here’s how the credit unions are solving a similar issue,” or, “Here’s how a wheelchair manufacturer handled that situation.” It’s exactly because I’m an outsider that I can bring outside ideas to my client. And, as I said before, for a client to seek those outside ideas—that’s just good business.

It’s tempting, as a leader, to want to stick to your own industry. It feels familiar, safe, secure. And it’s fine for those baby step changes. But if you really want to break things wide open and take a giant step forward—check out the view from outside.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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