Does Thinking Outside the Box Require Being Outside the Box? Yes – An Outside Perspective Breeds Innovation

Daniel Pink, one of the leading modern thinkers about work and the business environment, and the author of several books including, most recently, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, suggests in a recent The Telegraph article that we are more creative when solving other peoples’ problems. He presents the results of a very interesting experiment that demonstrates that a group of people working on a problem on behalf of someone else do far better than a group of people working on what they are told is their own problem.

Fascinating, but upon reflection, not all that surprising. In fact, isn’t this concept what has driven consulting revenue across a variety of industries over several years? Businesses commonly look outside their own organizations for assistance in solving a variety of issues ranging from the simple to the exceedingly complex. Interestingly, though, sometimes those problems that may be viewed by organizations as complex and by the consultants they work with as simple are the result of the phenomenon that Pink is pointing to. Things just look different from an outsider’s perspective. As they say, sometimes it’s just hard to “see the forest for the trees.”

When we’re considering our own issues we’re often “in the trees” and far too close to the issue to bring an objective viewpoint. That’s where outsiders can certainly provide important insights. I find that often in my own work now with clients and really enjoy the opportunity to work with a variety of organizations and individuals to help them address various communication and marketing-related issues. And, I would admit, that when I look back to my experiences inside organizations I would acknowledge that, over time, my perspectives became insular and “in the box.” Thinking outside the box, as Pink’s piece suggests, generally requires being outside the box.

That may obviously seem self-serving coming from someone who now operates outside the box. But, as I often tell participants in presentations I do, it’s not necessary to actually hire a consultant to provide that outside perspective. You can gain similar value by seeking input from people outside your department or outside your organization–colleagues who are part of trade groups or associations you participate in, for instance.

One of my clients, for example, who has a small consulting firm of her own, holds an annual retreat where she invites other business colleagues to come together to provide her with insights about issues she is facing and the future of her company. That’s a great idea–not only does it provide her with rich insights, but it also serves as a great business networking tool for her and her guests.

If you’re “in the box” and not seeking “outside the box” perspectives, you may be limiting your opportunities for growth and innovation. Think about how you might gain those outsider perspectives–today’s increasingly competitive market environment requires new ways of doing business.

Recommended reading:

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity From IDEO

Related blog posts:

Are You Prepared to Become Obsolete?

Create, Co-create, Collaborate or Die

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