I was amazed, when in college, by how many of my peers knew what their major would be while in their freshman year! I did decide, but even today I find myself fascinated by so many areas of discipline and enjoy exploring new realms that I joke I have yet to decide what I’ll be “when I grow up.” When you approach new opportunities and possibilities in this way, it is not unusual to experience resistance and skepticism by those who have trained and studied in a specific discipline. I strongly believe the ability and desire to learn new things are paramount to happiness and fulfillment, and contend any organization that embraces this perspective is better off for five main reasons.
“Where all think alike nobody thinks very much.” – Walter Lippman
Reason #1: Shake Things Up a Little
When you are watching a play unfold in front of you – whether football or theatre – you are able to see a wider perspective. The trick is to not approach your fresh perspective as Monday Morning Quarterbacking, but in fact to challenge the way things have always been done with appropriate reverence for foundational principles. Insiders may be too steeped in the organization’s past practices to envision new approaches, and therein lies the outsider’s value.
Reason #2: Excuse for Asking Questions
I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken up to ask a “stupid” question when everyone else acted like they understood … only to discover many people didn’t understand, but were hesitant to unveil their ignorance. When you have been in an environment long enough, it is often viewed as unacceptable to ask a very basic question. When you are an outsider, it is expected. Take advantage of this and ask those questions! By doing so, you are giving others an opportunity to learn something they were supposed to have known all along.
Reason #3: Apply “Foreign” Principles
When I worked for General Motors, the Japanese methods of continuous improvement were embraced – Kaizen means “change for the better.” This constant, continuous improvement is a mindset that can be applied anywhere, at any job.
This works not only for principles and philosophies, but sometimes tools and techniques. What works at a law firm to improve processes may also work at an advertising agency.
Bringing someone on board from another industry or profession is practiced all the time … it’s called Consulting!
Reason #4: Brainstorming
In order to truly brainstorm, everyone must agree there are no bad ideas. This is a tough one, though, when an outsider doesn’t have the same background as most of the team and doesn’t speak the same “language.”
A team that truly embraces brainstorming will encourage participation by EVERYONE … especially those with varied experience.
Mark Strand, captured these feelings in the opening lines of his poem, Keeping Things Whole. “In a field, I am the absence of field. This is always the case. Wherever I am, I am what is missing.”
David Burkus, a Forbes contributor, put it this way:
“As individuals grow in their expertise, their opinions about what won’t work may grow because of past experiences trying similar ideas and failing. Those with enough expertise to generate an idea, but not enough to dismiss it untried, end up testing more ideas and, even though most still fail, every once in awhile they discover an untried idea that leads to disruptive innovation.”
– Why Innovation Needs Outsiders
Reason #5: Identify New Opportunities
I have enjoyed the opportunity to be a “connector” through my exposure to and experience in various industries. For example, a client looking to trademark their branding appreciated the fact I could connect them with an intellectual property attorney. A diverse set of competencies and backgrounds can also provide a unique perspective to identify opportunities to enter new markets, target a different type of client, and develop professional relationships and cooperative agreements.
I guess I will always be an outsider of sorts. I am thankful for the discomfort in order to enjoy the benefits.
– Cheryl Roberts, Operations Manager