Monday, April 13, 2015

Listen to the Outsider

Last week I had the experience of being the outsider.

I won't go into too many details. It was a kind of strategy session. A group of us were brainstorming and trying to come up with a some creative solutions to some perplexing problems. And I was the unique one in the room. The one with the different background. The one not fully understanding the environment he was in. And the one at least conceptually capable of bringing a different perspective.

Now let's be honest. Most of the time, when I find myself in a situation like this, I don't say anything. My unfamiliarity with the people, or the environment, or the material being discussed, convinces me that it would be better to keep my mouth shut. To be the interested observer. Let them think I'm listening intently, and willing to participate if anyone would think to call on me. But no one will. They never do. I'm not one of them, after all. I don't know nearly as much about the subject they're discussing as they do. What could I possibly add that they haven't already thought of?

But this time was different. For whatever reason, I decided to engage. Maybe it was the late hour. Or the irascibility that seems to increase in direct proportion to my age. Whatever the cause, I started throwing my ideas into the ring. Not willy nilly, but thoughtfully. At least trying to connect my ideas to the landscape I saw emerging around me.

And although my first several attempts were unsuccessful--met with polite rejection by the other thought leaders in the room--I fairly quickly hit on something that made several people in the room sit back and ponder.

"You know," one of them said slowly. "That might work. That might really work."

It gave me a good feeling. Like I was the star pupil solving a puzzle that had eluded the rest of the class. But even as a kind of Pavlovian dopamine reward flooded my brain, I realized there was a more important lesson to be learned here. A practical, real-world lesson about letting outsiders come to the inside of your organization and turning them loose on some of your thorniest problems.

You don't have to act on anything they propose. Case in point, I don't know if the group I was with last week will really decide to do anything with the idea I gave them. But, if you let them, outsiders will at least give you some new perspective and some new ways of approaching your challenges. Ways that you cannot see because you are too close to your own problems.

In some cases, just listening to these outsiders may be the only thing you need to break out of the box your organized ways of thinking and acting have put you in.

+ + +

This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Image Source

No comments:

Post a Comment