If the Shoe Fits

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Have you heard the story of about the owner of a shoe store back in the 1890s? He had been hearing about the many people in Africa and thought perhaps that would be a good place to expand his business. He sent two sales people on a ship to explore the potential. One went to the East coast of Africa, one to the West. Shortly after they landed, the owner received a telegraph from the first sales person. “All hope is lost. No one here wears shoes.” Shortly after that, the owner received a telegraph from the second sales person. “Huge opportunity. No one here has shoes yet.”

Which salesperson are you?

 It is easy to get stuck in a single perspective, especially when you have been successful as a result of that point of view. There is a reason why innovative ideas tend to come from upstart companies (or people inside the organization who dance to the beat of their own drum). When something is working, it may seem foolhardy to disrupt the status quo… except the status quo will eventually get disrupted. The only question is if it will be by you or someone else.

For those who saw a bit of themselves in the first sales person, who aren’t naturally wired to step outside of what seems self-evident or to turn logic on its ear, how do you start to look at things differently? Sometimes changing your perspective  – even slightly – can make a huge difference in seeing new possibilities. So how do you go about changing your perspective?

• Read something from authors who offer a counter-intuitive perspective. I would suggest Daniel Pink’s Flip Manifesto or A Brief Guide to World Domination by Chris Guillebeau. Both are quick reads, and even if you don’t act on any of the ideas, they will stretch your thinking in new directions.

•  Find those “disrupters” in your company (every organization has at least one) and rather than trying to get them to conform, listen to their ideas and perspective. Again, you have the choice of whether to act on any of the suggestions, but at the very least, let their point of view stretch your own.

•  Look at the skills and competencies of your staff, as opposed to the roles they currently fill, and consider if those skills could be used differently, or to address a different challenge. Another option is to look at trends in other industries and ask what would happen if you applied those same ideas to your industry.

These are but a fraction of the things you can do to change your perspective about the opportunities before you. The first step is to recognize that you need to. Maybe you need to stop and ask yourself…if the shoe fits.

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