The Innovation Blog

The Power of an External Mindset

Posted by Jay Terwilliger on August 6, 2015

When you think of innovative cultures, think of an ice cube:

Change happens at the edges where the ice cube, or the organization, meets the world around it.


The best way to stimulate innovative thinking within yourself or your organization is to find ways to have more interaction with external thinking and perspectives.  We call this, developing an "External Mindset".  The sad fact is that over time, we all become somewhat narrow in our focus and in our thinking.  Especially our professional selves.  We exist within a job, within a function, within an organization, an industry, etc.  We become functionally myopic.  Focused on our small part of the puzzle.  Learning what can and cannot be done within that paradigm, and thinking that is the world of possibilities. We often don't even realize that we are looking at the "world" through a very narrow lens. 

If we're not looking, we're not seeing.  If we're not seeking, we're not finding.  If we're not listening, we aren't learning.  But for most of us, getting beyond that which is immediately needed in our daily lives, our daily focus, requires a concentrated effort.  We need to discipline ourselves to look outside, we need to develop new habits and new tools personally and organizationally.  How do we do this?  

As catalysts of collaborative innovation, one of our key focus and value areas for our clients is in our ability to help them stretch their perspectives with external stimulation.  We have a whole whitepaper on "The Power of an External Mindset" if you are interested.  But it really all boils down to three basic things:

1) Take your mind for a walk on the outside.  Search something different on the interet for 10 minutes everyday; subscribe to a magazine (old school), a forum, some news or opinion feed that you wouldn't normally see; have coffee with someone from another function; there are a million ways to expand your perspective, but you have to discipline yourself to do something and make it a habit. l

2) Bring the outside/in.  Sponsor a "Lunch and Learn" -- bring someone from another department, function, geography in to chat with you and your team; at your next annual meeting, summit, whatever you have, don't just bring in a motivational speaker, bring in someone who has a different view of the future;  when you are approaching a new challenge, opportunity, or problem to solve, don't just round up all the usual suspects.  Bring some external resources in.  Trend Experts, Cultural Anthropologists, Scientists, Technologists.  People with necessary and relevant experience.  The more the merrier.  Let the sparks fly.

3) Don't forget the power of naiveté.  The trouble with experts, internal or external, is as experts, they tend to think they have the answers.  But they also tend to be bound by the very knowledge they have developed.  There's nothing like someone who knows nothing about a subject's ability to stick a pin in preconceived "facts".  So when you are stretching perspectives, when you are bringing in external resources, bring in someone that everyone says "why"?  "I don't know" is an acceptable answer.  Very often it's that naive perspective that cuts through all the paradigms and wonders "why don't you just....."?


Unleash the Power of your External Mindset:

If you want to be an innovator, or an innovative company, you have to get beyond yourself.  It won't just happen.  You have to have discipline and force yourself until you create a habit and a culture of innovation stimulated by external thinking.