Looking outside your industry

Finding and articulating your unique point of view could be as easy as looking completely outside your industry for inspiration.

3 professors performed an experiment to test the novelty of innovation of three different groups. They were trying to create a better respirator mask for carpenters, and so they turned to carpenters, roofers, and skaters for solutions.

The professors wanted to know how innovative the solutions would be based on their proximity to the problem. This graph from a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article sums up what they found:

What do skaters know about respirator masks? Enough to see angles and opportunities that neither carpenters nor roofers could see. Here’s a quote from that same HBR article:

More than a decade ago, 3M developed a breakthrough concept for preventing infections associated with surgery after getting input from a theatrical-makeup specialist who was knowledgeable about preventing facial skin infections. Other examples from our own industry experience include a company that needed a solution for tracking inventory and borrowed ideas from the sensors on miniature robot-soccer players, and an escalator company that borrowed a solution from the mining industry in figuring out how to install escalators in shopping malls.

One of the big reasons your clients hire you to consult them is to see what they can’t. Developing your unique point of view can work the same way: seeking inspiration from unrelated industries, topics, and ideas can lead to breakthroughs that would otherwise be impossible.

Sure, the examples used here are products. But the fact remains that seeking inspiration only from your industry or only from your peers may lead to the same tired mill of ideas that have become the prevailing wisdom for years or decades.

Let’s turn to the brain for a second.

Our brains are just 3 pounds but contain 10 trillion synapses that link our neurons together. As we are exposed to new ideas, different parts of our brains “light up” or show activity.

The more novelty and diversity of ideas we introduce to our brains, the more connections we can make. The more connections we make, the more likely we are to be “inspired” by applying those ideas in different ways.

This is the physical act of inspiration, and it’s greatly accelerated by exposure to things we may not think of as “related” to our businesses.

But that’s one of the pathways to developing your worldview: seeking inspiration from unrelated industries, topics, and ideas.

-Liston