Look Out for Good Ideas
On a visit to Northern California, we stumbled across some extremely important advice for leaders. Exploring the Mendocino coast, we picked up a pamphlet describing a particular stretch of shoreline. Printed boldly across the top of the first page was this warning: “Never turn your back on the ocean.” And why shouldn’t you turn your back on the ocean to look inland to catch a view of the town? Because a rogue wave may come along when your back is turned and sweep you out to sea, as it has many an unsuspecting beach- comber. This warning holds lifesaving advice for travelers and leaders alike. When you take your eyes off the external realities, turning inward to admire the colorful scenery in your own organization, you may be swept away by the swirling waters of change.
G E You must continuously scan the external realities. To be sure,
innovation requires insight—the ability to apprehend the inner nature of things—but it also requires even keener outsight. When you keep the doors to the outside world open, ideas and information can flow freely into the organization. That’s the only way you can become knowledgeable about what goes on around you. Outsight is the sibling of insight, and without it innovation cannot happen. Insight without outsight is like seeing clearly with blinders on; you just can’t get a complete picture.
In testing and observing three thousand executives over a six- year period, professors Clayton Christensen, Jeffrey Dyer, and Hal Gregersen noted that the important “discovery” skill relevant to innovators was associating. This involves making connections across “seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.”23 One powerful method for making associations is through the use of analogies, according to McKinsey & Company consultants. They suggest that by forcing comparisons between one company and a second, seem- ingly unrelated one, you can make considerable creative break- throughs. Consider how you might stir the imagination by starting a discussion with your colleagues about such questions as:24
How would Google manage our data? How might Disney engage with our consumers? How could Southwest Airlines cut our costs? How would Zappos redesign our supply chain? How would Toyota change our production processes? How would Starwood design our customer loyalty program?
Put yourself into new situations. Confront existing paradigms. Adopt an inquisitive attitude toward others’ opinions and insights. These are methods that will keep your eyes and ears open to new ideas. Remain receptive and expose yourself to broader views.
Remove the protective covering in which organizations often seal themselves. Be willing to hear, consider, and accept ideas from sources outside the company. If you never turn your back on what is happening outside the boundaries of your organization, you will not be caught by surprise when the waves of change roll in.