Expertise — Asset or Liability?

Interview with Alan Gregerman, Author of The Necessity of Strangers, Surrounded by Geniuses, and Lessons from the Sandbox, Part 1
By Vern Burkhardt
“In a world where it is estimated that knowledge is now doubling every twelve months, we should be way more humble and way more open to the ideas and insights of others.

And we should be keen to reinvent our definition of expertise to include greater openness to finding the right knowledge no matter where it comes from.” The Necessity of Strangers, page 26

Vern Burkhart (VB): In The Necessity of Strangers, you say that the key to having the power to innovate is “thinking based on very different ideas and a very different frame of reference.” How does this work?

Alan GregermanAlan Gregerman: Most of us approach our work or any other challenges we face – social, civic, or in our personal lives – with a pretty clear frame of reference that we’ve developed over time. It is based on our education, formal training, on the job training, different environments we’ve lived in, and our various experiences. It strikes me that over time most people become more locked into a way of looking at things, rather than the opposite of becoming more open to a variety of ways of looking at things.

To reach our real potential we need to be willing to allow new ideas into our thinking. If we tend to look at all of our problems or opportunities in roughly the same way with the same kind of knowledge base, then we’re going to limit our possibilities of thinking in new ways. This means we’re more likely to do things incrementally and at the margins. I like to think that innovation is about creating some significantly more valuable way to do the things which really matter.

We all have a predominant frame of reference. Our ability to believe that there are a variety of frames of references for looking at any challenge, and to be open to them, is fundamental to our success.

VB: So we need to consciously take steps to avoid always coming up with the same thoughts, and then convincing ourselves we’re always right?

Alan Gregerman: Yes, we tend to be adverse to ideas that are different than ours, because we’ve got a big investment in the way we think about things.

Let’s face it, almost everyone works hard to become and remain an ‘expert’ at something. Our expertise is based on a way of thinking and looking at the world. What we need instead is to be much more expert at being open-minded to a variety of possibilities. We need to be open to a variety of ways of looking at challenges. We need to be open to a variety of ways of putting things together that according to our view of the world at first blush don’t appear to belong. If we do this it could be the basis for a different way of thinking.

VB: You say all of us have the potential to be innovative, and “strangers are the real key to our success.” Why is this so?

Alan Gregerman: It really builds on what we were just talking about.

As kids we were the most innovative folks on the planet. We didn’t know much about any particular thing, but we wanted to know about everything. We were continually asking a lot of questions, taking things apart, testing the properties of the things around us – including our pets. We were open to trying new things, and putting things together that absolutely didn’t belong with each other. But somewhere between the sandbox and the world of our adult lives we lost the knack for exploring the world around us with a sense of innocence and curiosity.

The most fundamental skill or gift we require to be innovative is curiosity. It’s the ability to look at problems in different ways, to ask different questions, and to look at ideas hovering around us in different ways. It’s being open to making connections that we might not normally see with our more traditional frames of reference. So curiosity is the key.

The fact, which I like to share, which backs this up is that 99% of all new ideas are based on the insights of someone else or something else. Imagine the implications if, in fact, almost all new ideas are sparked or fueled in some way by one or more insights from others who most often are in different walks of life and are outside of our businesses or organizations. If we can figure out how to tap into these strangers, then we will instantly be way more innovative than if we simply continue doing business as usual.

All of us were born to be creative, but for most of us this creativity and openness to new people and ideas has been sucked out of us by our education and by many of the organizations we’ve worked in or been exposed to. The positive message is we have the ability to rediscover our creativity simply by being willing to get out of our chairs and engage the world around us head on.

VB: Is this the essence of your book that you wrote in 2000, The Lessons from the Sandbox?

Alan Gregerman: In that book I dealt with the real ‘magic’ of childhood and I identified 13 things we did naturally as kids that are essential to business success and innovation. As kids we instinctively knew there were all sorts of cool things to explore and engage in. We jumped in puddles, rolled up our sleeves and got dirty, pulled things apart, and asked a lot of questions that most adults would think had obvious answers. We mixed things up in the blender of our minds, or in a bowl in the kitchen, just to see how they would turn out.

The second part of the equation, which I’ve been working on for 20-some years, is the notion that most organizations have it all wrong when trying to be innovative. When trying to solve a problem, create new products or services, create a more powerful customer experience, or use technology in new ways most organizations bring together their smartest people – the ones who have been most successful in the past – and ask them to come up with an ‘out-of-the-box’ idea. And to make it easier – and hopefully more productive – they have them meet in a really cool room with all kinds of cool whiteboards, markers, and other things to play with. But since 99% of all new ideas are based on things which go on outside their organization, they’ve missed the boat with this approach. Unless these internal people are well connected with the outside world and are remarkably creative, they’ve cast a very narrow net in the search for breakthrough and truly innovative ideas. They know a great deal but more often than not they lack the new ideas and perspectives needed to stir the pot in a way that could get the organization to the point of being as remarkable as possible.

If instead you were to say let’s gather together people from all levels of our business or organization who have most recently come from a variety of other industries and walks of life, then you would be more likely to stretch your thinking about what’s possible in your business. I would actually take it up a notch. I’d get these newly hired employees together, but I wouldn’t have them get together in a meeting room. I’d send them as a group out to explore the world around them with the assignment of coming back with new ideas that might apply to our organization.

VB: Go on a ‘field trip’.

Alan Gregerman: Yes, I love the whole notion of taking field trips. When we were kids it was the coolest and most energizing way to learn because the act of getting out into the real world made the textbooks come alive.

One of the most popular aspects of my work with companies and organizations is organizing team-learning adventures. In this program we help teams to create real breakthroughs by sending them out to ‘explore’ the city where they work or to ‘explore’ another great city. We design each exploration based on the specific challenge they are trying to solve by sending them to companies, neighborhoods, museums, and performances filled with people, ideas, and inspirations that will spark fresh thinking. All of this is with the intention of combining this new learning with what they already know to create really compelling breakthroughs.

This notion of field trips, and getting out of the office and one’s comfort zone is very compelling.

VB: We’ve lost our innocence of childhood.

Alan Gregerman: Absolutely, and we’ve lost our willingness and openness to believing that we can learn best by leaving the comfortable confines of our offices and workplaces. We’ve lost our willingness to get out from where we typically hang out – both physically and mentally.

Often when I begin to work with organizations and tell them we are going to take a field trip, a number of the most senior people will say, “Do we have to do that?” “Do we really have to get away from the office?” “We simply don’t have the time. “ And I have to spend a bit of time convincing them of the logic of getting out and of being exposed to different experiences, and the power of being able to take a fresh look at the world. It’s the power of simply being open to the fact that there are lots of other smart people who we have yet to meet.

People also tend to think, especially if they’re in a relatively successful organization, that they’ve got it all figured it out. That they’re already smart and there isn’t much more to be learned from others. I love to observe people when they do realize that, although they’re already pretty smart, there are so many more people in the world who are also very smart, and they may know something which is distinctly different and valuable that can help us to reimagine the challenges and opportunities we face.

VB: ‘...”it’s not whom you know but whom you could know” that determines our success.’ How do we identify whom we should strive to get to know?

Alan Gregerman: This idea is vitally important to our success as individuals and organizations and there are two things we ought to be thinking about.

The first attacks this issue head on and all that is required is for us to be a bit more humble and honest about our own gaps. Unless we believe we’re doing everything brilliantly we ought to ask ourselves, what are the things that we can do better to grow our enterprise and add greater value as an individual? Could we be better at using technology to connect with our customers? Could we be better at creating products, services, or solutions that better meet customers’ needs, or are much easier for customers to use and get value? Could we be better at educating the customers we serve? Could we be better at figuring out how to bring in a new generation of employees, and truly motivate and engage them so they want to stay and make a difference? Could we be better in terms of the quality of our business processes? We could identify those gaps by being honest about the things we could be better at and that would really matter in the marketplace. Once identified we can cast a wider net to see who out there is remarkable at those things and might be willing to share with us some of their insights for being brilliant.

We have to be honest and open about what we’re not great at, and then we must be willing to look more broadly at the world. One way would be to wander around our community, and observe and talk with those who are brilliant at what they do. Or, we can use the Internet as a starting point in our quest. All of us have the ability to connect with almost anyone else on the planet, by first using our LinkedIn networks, Facebook friends, or other social media. And if that doesn’t lead to the best connections we can decide to ‘Google‘ companies, organizations, and individuals that are brilliant at a gap we have in our organization. It might be providing and easy to use user interface, excelling at the customer experience, creating the best way to deliver consistently high quality, or consistently coming up with the best new products or services. It might be excelling at teamwork and collaboration. Or we might want to find organizations that have most successfully integrated mergers and acquisitions and new colleagues into their enterprise. Once we identify them we can reach out to these people with a sense of humility to learn what they’re best at. Assuming they’re not competitors, and most often we will look to people in different industries, they ought to be willing to share some of their insights. The presumption is we would also be willing to share our insights about what we’re particularly good at.

The second thing we should be thinking about is the power of serendipity. While we initially might try to find people who we believe know something that would fill our skills and idea gap, there’s no substitute for also keeping our head up and looking around for people who are doing remarkable things. I think Edison once said, “Success comes to those who hustle while they wait.” The trouble is that most of us are content to simply spend a lot of time waiting, rather than making an effort to connect in a meaningful way with the people we encounter. We could walk through a bustling city neighborhood, find a business that we think is remarkable but has not been on our radar, wander in, and start talking to the people who are there. We might find from this conversation that there’s a new idea or a new way to think about something.

Another approach could be to attend a lecture or a seminar in a field that we don’t know a lot about. The purpose would be to seek to connect with people who might fortuitously know something which would be an important learning moment for addressing our business challenges.

There are a large number of opportunities in both a focused and less focused way to start to engage with strangers who could really change our worldview.

VB: In your experience with the companies you work with are these strangers willing to share their inner secrets about their successes?

Alan Gregerman: Most are delighted to because most people and organizations take pride in sharing their knowledge and accomplishments. Some are less willing and it is always a bit of a surprise to me when they aren’t. I regularly send people to a wide range of businesses and organizations to look for insights, and most of the time these people are keen to share what they know. This assumes, of course, that we are genuinely interested and respectful.

There have been occasions where I’ve been quite frustrated. The last time that I sent a group of people to Whole Foods Market, the highly successful natural and organic grocery store company, some of their employees were somewhat less welcoming to our questions and curiosity. And some of their employees were even quite rude and slightly hostile. This seemed strange given that I have always viewed this leading company as particularly customer-centric and innovative. When this does occur it is always a surprise because companies like Whole Foods have nothing to lose assuming visitors are not direct competitors. In fact, they’ve a lot to gain by being positive representatives of their companies. Good news stories are shared.

VB: How can we change a ‘fixed’ mindset to a ‘growth’ mindset?

Alan Gregerman: That’s a really good question, which ties in with a lot of what we’ve been talking about.

The first important thing is to recognize that most of us, and most of our companies and organizations, approach the world with a fixed mindset. We’re often locked into a way of looking at, and thinking about, the world.

Second, we have to be excited about what we do as an organization. We need to be excited about what our fundamental purpose is as an organization, and why it really matters. If we could get more people truly excited about the work we do and their role in making it happen, then we could ask them, ‘If this work really matters that much to you wouldn’t everyone be better off if we stretched our thinking and casted a wider net in order to make us even more remarkable for the things that we do?’ It could be things which would make us more remarkably valuable to our customers, our employees and team members, and our shareholders. We have to get people focused on the merits of our organization’s purpose and their connection to it so that they can strive to be the best they can possibly be. This provides a lever for being more open minded.

Then we have to do the things we’ve talked about before. We have to acknowledge the things we’re really good at and work to become even better at those. We have to acknowledge the things we’re not so good at and be humble in seeking fresh ideas on how to solve this part of the equation.

Once we’ve identified what we’re good at but are open to improving and what we definitely need to improve, we have to challenge ourselves to wander around with open minds and powerful questions. And we need to be open to connecting with new people who are different than us, and figure out how they think, what matters to them, and what makes them remarkable.

When I send people off on field trips of discovery the only thing I suggest to them is to look for people who in some walk of life are remarkable in what they do. Look for people who have made a real difference in their chosen field and made a significant investment to be remarkable, and then figure out what makes them so remarkable. Once you have figured this out, the next challenge is to try to figure out if their ideas, traits and approaches have any relevance your world.

I also challenge people to be more open to collaborating. It turns out that the people who are less open minded are the ones who generally don’t collaborate with others. To the extent they do engage in collaboration they tend to do so with others who are just like themselves. The result is they don’t obtain new insights and ideas, which are uniquely valuable.

One way to strengthen our ability to collaborate effectively is by going on a field trip to a different part of your own organization. This works especially well if you visit with a group who you have stereotyped as being different, perhaps even ‘weird’ in what they do and how they do it. If you learn more about what they do there is no doubt but that you will be exposed to many different viewpoints and approaches to seeing the same challenges you are facing. It will also enhance internal collaboration across departments.

VB: Does a growth mindset entail self-learning as well as wanting to grow and improve your organization?

Alan Gregerman: Yes. A growth mindset applies to organizations and individuals. It’s a fundamental belief that we can always be better at the things that matter the most. The goal is not the short-term aim of getting people to buy your stuff. The goal is to consistently create greater value. It’s to consistently be smarter and always strive to understand more about the customer’s world and the world of possibilities. The premise is that the more you know, the better and more valuable you can be.

VB: You say that expertise plays a large role in promoting a closed mindset. Is this a key caution for companies that traditionally rely almost exclusively on their internal R&D?

Alan Gregerman: Absolutely, and it’s a really good question.

Think about this. Expertise is one of our greatest assets as an organization, and one of our greatest liabilities. It’s an asset if the things we know really matter to others, if our expertise is powerful and compelling to do positive things such as making our customers way more successful than they could ever imagine possible. But even so, we always have to keep adding to our expertise so that we can continue to solve problems better, faster, more responsively, and in a way that engages customers and colleagues more effectively.

Expertise is certainly an asset in a lot of ways. But expertise is an amazing liability if it only enables us to look at the world with a single mindset, or to fashion solutions based on one type of understanding and one set of tools. And it is also a liability if it drives us to make only incremental changes rather than significant leaps in value for customers.

Many companies, which have well-staffed R&D capabilities especially in technology, engineering, or expertise-driven companies, tend to rely on their expertise as the sole source of value for customers. When they do this they often miss changes going on in the marketplace, changes in which customers are asking for new and different ideas, or changes in which new business models are emerging. They simply can’t get off their dime because they’re not willing to do so or haven’t learned how.

If you want a classic but sad example of this idea, think of Blackberry, the maker of cell phones. It was once a truly remarkable company and the master of its domain. In fact, the folks at Blackberry were simply brilliant and figured out two fundamentally important things that drove the creation and early evolution of smart phones. First, they figured out how to enable somebody to obtain their email while their smart phone was located virtually anywhere. This was a remarkable breakthrough, and it dramatically changed the way people engage with each other. The second thing they figured out was how to do it in such a secure way that even large corporations could rely on the protection of its information and data. It worked at an ‘enterprise level’ in the business world.

Those were pretty awesome innovations, but the experts at Blackberry shouldn’t have rested on its laurels. They continued to rely on their internal expertise as they made incremental improvements to their existing products and services. And by continuing to focus on email, corporate-level customers, and their closed model of security they missed the key mind set change which indicated that smart phone devices were quickly becoming the central tool of our technology and social media-driven lives. These social interactions across the globe would revolutionize the way businesses related to their customers, people related to each other, and people used technology. And smart phones would need to become much more user-friendly, fun to use, and powerful.

Blackberry is a good reminder for most kinds of businesses and organizations that if you rely solely or primarily on your internal expertise and way of thinking, then you run the risk of missing emerging trends and the essential opportunities for staying connected with the marketplace. You need different types of expertise in order to stay ahead of the curve. If you simply rely on your internal R&D expertise you may miss the boat, and this is the case with most kinds of businesses and organizations.

VB: If you only rely on your own expertise you may not recognize the importance of evolving customer expectations, major technology changes, or threats from disruptive competitors.

Alan Gregerman: Exactly.

Customers change. Customers’ needs change. Customers’ expectations about what’s remarkable are changing all the time. If you’re not paying attention to all of this, and bringing in the relevant expertise to keep up with all of these threats and risks, you are gambling with low odds of success.

VB: In your book you say, “Sometimes our purpose may be relatively clear, but our path is created in large part by strangers.” How does this work?

Alan Gregerman: Often you know there’s a market opportunity but don’t know the best way to pursue it. You can either have all of your internal R&D and marketing resources wrestle with how to do it, or you can talk to strangers who have the potential to be customers of your business and ask them how to solve the problem.

There are a variety of ways in which leading businesses are going about doing this. One interesting example that I mention in my new book is Popularise, an online crowdsourcing platform here in Washington, D.C., and a growing number of cities which focus on commercial property development. Most real estate developers, property owners, and architects rely on traditional market research to assess the viability of a project, and to determine what mix of retail businesses to attract to their large-scale development projects in order to make these projects financially viable.

Popularise enables builders, who are in the retail development business and are excited about a proposed building projects, to admit that they don’t have all the answers. It enables them to welcome input from a group of strangers. It has the potential for these strangers over time to become the builders’ friends, and later to be customers who are vital to the success of the project.

With Popularise a developer or business – a ‘builder’ – creates a drawing board by posting information about a real estate development project they are considering. The drawing board will include a description of the project, a photo or architectural rendering, and an invitation for feedback and input. This enables the ‘crowd’ to provide input into proposed projects, including what types of retail gaps they believe exist in their neighborhood, and what types of businesses they’re familiar with that they think are awesome and would be delighted to patronize in the new retail space. Interested members in the community and potential customers can submit their ideas in answer to a posed question, and they can vote ‘build it’ if they support the proposed development. While this is not a formal vote it does provide an indication of whether or not the local public are supportive of the proposed development.

In my book I also use an enlightening historical example of the race to be the first person to the South Pole. It is a story that is particularly powerful for me, because I have been trained as a geographer. In 1912 Robert Falcon Scott, a British naval officer, and Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, set off to reach one of the few remaining places on Earth where a human had never been.

Scott was the product of a world in which science was highly valued and where the best way to figure out how to do something was to rely on the knowledge of “experts” – people who were highly trained in a matter at hand. His only challenge was that no one had ever been to the South Pole so the experts in England – those in the developed world that he thought were credible – didn’t have a lot of insight to share. Instead he took what he thought were the best practices and insights from his experiences as a highly educated naval officer.

Scott was competing, to the extent that we can view it as a competition, against a Norwegian who was open to acquiring relevant knowledge from any source that would help him to achieve his goal. He was open to the fact that there were people who knew a lot more than he did about the subject. His purpose was clear, but he admitted he didn’t exactly know what it would take to survive in the harshest climate on Earth. So Amundsen sought to find the people who lived closest to the kind of weather found in the South Pole. He found Inuit who lived close to the North Pole, and asked them if he could live with them for a couple of years. That’s a big investment of time to make, but his view was if he could understand how they survived, moved around, housed and fed themselves, avoided disease, took care of their animals, and knew what animals they could rely on, he would have a much better chance to achieve his purpose.

So one explorer was open to strangers, and especially strangers who were very different than him. The other was not particularly open to strangers because he thought he knew all he needed to know based on his own training and ingenuity. One might even argue that at the turn of the century the view in England of people like the Inuit would be that they were significantly less developed and less sophisticated than highly educated Westerners. So what could be learned from them? They might be remarkable people to profile in a museum, but certainly not to be counted on when you wanted to solve a problem—especially of the magnitude of a trek to the South Pole.

Most of us know how the story turned out. Amundsen got to the South Pole where he planted the Norwegian flag 33 days ahead of Scott. He and his men all returned safely as did most of their animals. Scott and that part of his party who made it all the way to the South Pole arrived to see the Norwegian flag, probably shared an expletive or two, and they died on the journey back to safety.

There are lots of examples in history and the business world which reinforce that the most important thing is to have a purpose that matters. The next most important thing is to understand what parts of it you know how to achieve, and what parts you need the help of others.

VB: “[brainstorm and the latest creative thinking techniques]…can be useful starting points for taking a fresh look at some problems or opportunities, [but] they don’t take into account the reality of where most new ideas come from: the world around us.” What should we do differently if we want to generate breakthrough new ideas?

Alan Gregerman: It gets back to some of the things we have been talking about.

You need to be open to a world filled with lots of cool ideas. This means that you need to be willing to cast a wider net and go beyond your world to many different industries and disciplines where they might be remarkable at something where you’re deficient. You need to view yourself as somebody who is compellingly committed to learning new things, and to finding new raw materials, which you can put together, to help change the way you think about your business. This will cause you to rethink what you do and what you offer to your customers.

If you ask somebody in an organization to come up with a new idea, or where they might find new ideas, most people will first say, “Well we’re a fairly large organization, I’ll tap into the ideas of our employees.” This is not a bad approach, but it’s only a starting point.

What if you were to ask the same person where they would go if they were going to go beyond their organization to find creative ideas? Most organizations look to the best practices in their own industries to determine whether or not there are things which other businesses are already doing that, if adopted, could make them more successful. The reality is that if you simply implement what has already been done in other companies, then you are not going to get any competitive advantage. You’re not going to deliver any greater value to your customers simply by mimicking others in your industry. In some respects it’s okay to look at leaders in your industry, because what you learn will give you information about the minimum threshold of what you have to deliver.

If you want to be more remarkable than your competition, then you have to step outside your normal sphere and ask, “Are there other industries, other walks of life, or other cultures where people are more remarkable or clever about the particular challenge you are facing?” If the answer is yes, the challenge then becomes how to discover their ideas and figure out how to adapt their ideas to really stretch what your organization does.

The Necessity of StrangersThis is part of what I encourage people to be thinking about, and one of the reasons I would love your readers to read The Necessity of Strangers. When I work with companies I challenge them to make an extraordinary effort to cast a wider net. I challenge them to go beyond the frame of reference they’re comfortable with to a place where they experience less comfort. It is often less comfortable to not only look for others who know some really cool things, but also to use what they know as the starting point for thinking differently. These strangers could be people from totally different fields. They could be modern dance troupes which know an awful lot about collaborating, improvising, and stretching an art form in new ways. They could be people at Tesla Motors who, I would argue, haven’t simply created a super cool electric car, but have also created a powerful infrastructure in a way that might change the way people think about cars and the fuels those cars use.

If Tesla Motors had simply designed a super cool $100,000 electric car, then clearly there are a limited number of people who would buy one. This even though they have sold more than 25,000 cars already. In fact, some of the potential customers might even live in places where the energy source to produce the electricity used to recharge these cars isn’t environmentally friendly. And there are limits to the distance electric vehicles can be driven with their charged batteries. These limits might be 200 or 250 miles at the most. The people at Tesla decided to also create an infrastructure of rapid charging stations, which use renewable energy sources. This means that car owners can take a long trip in a Tesla car. Every couple of hundred miles the owners can stop for 20 minutes, which they’re probably likely to do anyway to get a grande skimmed mocha chino or take a bio break. And while they are taking their break the battery in their car is charged, and they can get back on the road and resume their trip. Tesla is thinking in cool ways about how to serve strangers who are their customers.

I use Apple as another example in my book. We tend to think there are certain companies which are so full of brilliant people that they don’t need outsiders’ ideas. And Apple is certainly one that comes to mind. One of the areas in which it has created remarkable excitement and innovation is in the world of portable music players. In fact, Apple has won roughly 70% market share for digital music worldwide with its iPod and other devices. This is pretty remarkable today given that there are lots of other great technology companies.

And while the folks at Apple are brilliant and intuitive designers, they are also masters at building on the ideas of strangers by casting a wider net. They didn’t invent portable music. Sony did this when it invented the Walkman in 1979. And they didn’t invent the MP3 platform, the primary technology that drives these devices. That was two German engineers in 1986. I would even suggest that they didn’t invent the notion behind the iTunes store – the world’s largest repository of music, videos, books, and now other content which is really the heart of Apple’s ecosystem of value. That was actually the Egyptians who 2,300 years ago created the Great Library of Alexandria, a place that had 400,000 documents. All of these documents were hand-written. And while the Egyptians didn’t have a great music collection, imagine the magnitude of their accomplishments. They had brought together in one place their best understanding of the world’s knowledge at that time.

VB: Why is it difficult for some companies to innovate and what are some hints for changing this?

Alan Gregerman: It could be a long conversation!

Once most companies become successful the leaders and employees believe in the way they do things, and this limits their ability to stretch themselves and do dramatically different things or do things in a dramatically different way. Over time most companies become risk averse. This means when the leaders say they want innovation, they are actually asking for the next incremental idea.

It takes an act of compelling and visionary leadership to say, ‘We must regularly re-invent ourselves if we are to remain relevant.’

When recruiting, if you want to have an organization which is continually coming up with powerful new ideas you need to hire people who think and act in different ways than you. This means avoiding the typical bias of hiring people who act and think like the people doing the hiring. You need to hire strangers who are compelling in some way.

And then you have to make sure you don’t suck the creativity out of these people by quickly trying to make them just like everyone else in your organization. This means encouraging and supporting their efforts to stir the pot as soon as they arrive. Think of these new employees as the most innovative people in your organization because they bring new and fresh experiences and perceptions from somewhere else. New and fresh experiences that might help us to be different and better at the things which matter the most. So rather than giving them an orientation to quickly get up to speed on how you do things, give them the freedom to observe and think. And then have them tell you from their perspective what they think you are doing that is brilliant and what they think you are doing that is odd, inefficient, or even clueless. This approach is much more likely to sow the seeds of their engagement and innovation.

Conclusion:
Striving to have a growth mindset. Going on field trips. Being humble and honest about our own gaps as companies, organizations, and individuals. Looking for ideas and solutions beyond our expertise and the experts who are close to us. Casting a wider net and going beyond our industries and comfort zones to many different industries, disciplines, walks of life, and cultures to find cool ideas for becoming more remarkable than the competition. These are great ideas.

Next week we continue with our conversation with author Alan Gregerman.
Read Part 2 of this Article [HERE]

Alan Gregerman’s bio:
Dr. Alan Gregerman: is President and Chief Innovation Officer of VENTURE WORKS Inc., a consulting firm based in the Washington, D.C. area that helps leading companies and organizations to develop winning strategies and create successful new products, services, ventures, and new ways of doing business. His customers are a wide range of Fortune 500 corporations, growing firms, start-ups, and nonprofits.

Before starting VENTURE WORKS, he was Director of Entrepreneurial Services for a national consulting firm, Special Assistant for Operations at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the first Visiting Scholar in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Library of Congress. He has also worked as a mapmaker, subway mechanic, and hotel housekeeper.

Alan Gregerman earned his B.A. (magna cum laude) in geography from Northwestern University, and his M.A. in economic geography and Ph.D. in urban and technological planning, with highest honors, from the University of Michigan. In his free time, he is founder and President of Passion for Learning, Inc., where he is involved in efforts to build innovative partnerships between the business community and low-income schools to make curriculum come alive for at-risk children.

Alan Gregerman is the author of The Necessity of Strangers: The Intriguing Truth about Insight, Innovation, and Success (2013), Surrounded by Geniuses: Unlocking the Brilliance in Yourself, Your Colleagues and Your Organization (2010), and Lessons from the Sandbox: Using the 13 Gifts of Childhood to Rediscover the Keys to Business Success (2000).

Feedback Welcome:
We would appreciate receiving feedback about this, or any of our other articles on the IdeaConnection.com website. [Please write us] with any comments or suggestions.

If you would like us to interview you about an article or book you have written, or an interesting idea, or a business you are involved with, [please let us know].

To read other interviews with authors and people interested in innovation, creativity, and business leadership please go to Interviews with Innovation Authors and Corporate Innovators. To read interviews with corporate innovators please go to Conversations with Corporate Innovators.

Share on        
Next Interview »