I recently attended an international conference targeted toward researchers of nonprofits. I lead a nonprofit organization. One might assume that researchers who study nonprofits would have similar perspectives as practitioners who work in one. For the most part — at least based on this experience — that assumption would be wrong. And just as some of the viewpoints I heard differed from my own experiences, I’m guessing some of my questions felt a bit unexpected to the presenters . . . and that’s a good thing!
Looking beyond logical points of connection to intentionally spend time with people who are addressing a similar challenge from a different perspective can stretch your thinking in powerful ways. As a leader who is deeply immersed in your field, it is easy to get siloed in your thinking without even knowing it . . . simply by surrounding yourself with people or attending meetings and conferences that look at a challenge from the same “lane” that you arein . . . i.e. only going to conferences with other nonprofit execs. After all, you’re the experts, the ones who really understand the issues, right?
Maybe it’s time you stepped outside of your usual lane. Simply taking a half-step in either direction from your current viewpoint can result in surprising new insights. It’s not as hard as you might think:
- Look at how different industries have taken on a similar challenge. For example, if you are in a nonprofit organization, how have manufacturers handled situations that at first glance may not seem the same, but at their core really are?
- Attend a conference that piques your interest, even if it is not an obvious fit. Learning about less familiar topics can yield, perhaps surprisingly, more “light bulb” moments than continuing to chip away at an issue with similar-minded people.
- Read a magazine or follow a blog that is different from what you usually read. If you are a Harvard Business Review kind of person, read a few issues of Fast Company or Inc. magazine or ask a young professional for a recommendation of a podcast they think you would like.
- Talk to people working in different aspects of your industry — or people who have little to no knowledge of your industry — and ask their perspective on the challenges you are trying to tackle.
I know, I know . . . you don’t have time or resources to keep up with everything inside your field, much less investing time and energy into something that on the surface seems unlikely to help you address the challenges before you.
But what if it does?
I’m not suggesting that you give up on gaining wisdom and direction from within your industry, only that you also take advantage of the fresh insight waiting for you . . . one step beyond the logical.