Are you struggling to find the answers to the most critical challenges in your organization? Do you feel you’ve exhausted all the avenues and are still unclear on where to go next? If so, you’re probably been looking in the wrong place. Strategy consultant Matt Spry discusses the benefits of looking outside your business, knowledge, and expertise for the answers your organization needs to survive and thrive.
The famous economist John Maynard Keynes said, ‘The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones. Many success stories stem from taking a new perspective on a challenge by seeking out ideas and inspiration from the most unlikely sources.
One of my favorite examples of this was in 2007. Chris McCormack, an Australian champion triathlete, had hit a brick wall in his quest to win the most prestigious triathlon race on the planet – the annual Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Despite many years of successful World Cup races and World Championships, he had failed to win at Kona for five years.
Time and time again, he faced relentless cramping due to dehydration caused by the heat and humidity in Hawaii. He felt frustrated and defeated. A friend advised him to look elsewhere for the solution he needed to finish the challenge. Perhaps someone had an answer he hadn’t thought of.
Despite his initial reluctance, his curiosity led him to find the answer he was looking for… in the world of bodybuilding. The knowledge he gained helped him to understand the human body at a much deeper level. Equipped with this new perspective and enlightened battle plan, he was able to prevent the debilitating cramping he had previously succumbed to and achieve his first Ironman win in Hawaii.
The power of humility
The key lesson here is that bringing in external ideas, experiences, and strategies can unlock valuable, untapped knowledge, which can bring a competitive advantage. Many businesses tend to operate in silos but one of the most critical learnings when striving to be ‘best in class’ is the honest acceptance that no one person, team, or company knows absolutely everything.
Having the humility to say ‘I don’t know’ isn’t a sign of weakness or lacking. It’s incredibly powerful and transformative. Learning is a continuous process, and the first step to overcoming whatever challenges lie in front is admitting you don’t have the answer and then seeking out solutions from those who do.
As a business leader, you should always be looking for ways to grow and improve, which is why curiosity about other approaches, perspectives, and strategies should be a key priority during your tenure. Stop making excuses and get to work accessing the endless supply of material available to you in workshops, books, podcasts, training, and videos. Despite the common desire to be seen as walking a unique path, the reality is that many have trodden the same path before us. If you take the time to look, you’ll be surprised at what enlightening ideas and suggestions arise from those who have already succeeded.
Knowledge is power
Leaders often take responsibility for seeking out the answers to the organization’s challenges, but the reality is that it should be a team effort. Communicating exactly what the strategic focus is and developing clarity on the challenges ahead is a step that is frequently overlooked. When everyone in the organization is engaged and entirely on board with what they are looking for, the outcomes you seek are much more likely to be discovered.
Creating a platform to share your newfound collective knowledge, observations and insights is a surefire way to keep the entire team engaged whilst also supercharging your chances of success. There are countless tools available to assist with this, such as Evernote, Slack, and Miro, but the practice itself matters more than the specific tool you decide to implement.
Don’t rest on your laurels once a potential solution has been found. It’s essential to test it safely through trial and error. If it passes the initial test phase, iterate, manages the risk, and scale the elements that work. This creates a crucial learning loop and empowers the entire team to work toward solving the most critical challenges the organization faces.
There is no doubt that Chris McCormack would have continued to face the same roadblocks in his competitive career had he not been open-minded enough to seek out solutions from outside of his field and be humble enough to admit he didn’t have the answer. His willingness to step outside of his comfort zone and employ new tactics led to the transformation in his performance and winning titles to boot. Ask yourself what successes could you and your team be enjoying twelve months from now if you adopted the same attributes as Chris?