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Why Outside Perspectives Are Key To Creating Value


How Outside Perspectives Help Create New Value

Many of the world’s largest companies have found ways to systematically bring in outside thinking. In large part, this is out of necessity. If you have a company with $20 billion in annual revenue (which is below the mean for the Fortune 500), achieving 5 percent organic growth requires bringing in $1 billion in new revenue each year. That’s the equivalent of creating a new company—and a large one at that. With a task that daunting, happenstance isn’t a viable way to find growth opportunities. Over time, as the internal well begins to run dry, a consistent source of fresh perspectives can be a valuable way to bring in new ideas and new ways of thinking.

Beyond being a source of new ideas, outsiders can also help reimagine and vet the ideas you already have. Once you have an idea on the table, bringing it to others outside your field can be helpful for a few reasons. First, they can provide an unbiased opinion on how new the idea really seems. For those who don’t understand the technical magnificence of what you’ve accomplished, does the idea really seem innovative? Second, they can suggest alterations that are common outside your industry but that may never have occurred to you. IKEA’s business model depends on its ability to sell sturdy, lightweight furniture that can be flat-packed. Yet the idea for the cost-effective board-on-frame construction method that underlies several IKEA products wasn’t conceived of until a product developer brought back the idea after touring a door factory. Third, outsiders can help you understand whether you’re clearly explaining the idea to someone who doesn’t live and breathe your internal lingo. While the benefits of your new solution may seem obvious to you, see whether your 30-second pitch can pique an outsider’s interest.

Two Ways To Bring In Outside Perspectives

The benefits of seeking outside perspectives are clear. But how do you actually do it? More importantly, how do you make sure it’s done routinely? There are two ways to institutionalize the practice of bringing in outside views. The first is with an open innovation program that establishes permanent channels for reaching out to experts, customers, and other thought partners. These programs are useful both for bringing in new ideas and for generally staying abreast of trends and innovations in other industries. 3M regularly sends its employees out to interact with other business units, outside experts, and customers. A few years back, when the abrasives division introduced its self-sharpening sandpaper, it used seven different technologies to create the product. Only two of those actually came from the division itself. The rest came to the division through the company’s open innovation program.

The second way to shake up your perspective is less involved. It simply requires opening the discussion to people with diverse experiences. When you’re planning an ideation session or even just having discussions about a challenge, consider what people from other departments or companies might be able to add. Some groups even institutionalize this into their hiring practices. Corning’s Exploratory Markets and Technologies Group, for example, was known for hiring only individuals who had worked with multiple technologies in at least two different industries. Whatever approach you choose, make sure that your new ideas have at least been looked at by those other than the group that came up with them.

More of this approach is featured in my new book JOBS TO BE DONE: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation.

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