Xenophilia

Now that sounds ominous, almost dangerous, or even illegal.  But it could be one of the most important things you could do to improve your business.  In this context, it refers to an embrace of outsiders. Organizations perform well when people are committed to the same things and base their actions on that common commitment.  With that bond comes a risk.  The group often develops a collective mindset – groupthink – that limits the awareness and recognition of new inputs, especially changing conditions.

It’s about perspective, and the insidious nature of losing it.  That’s the point: losing perspective fosters complacency, a satisfaction or comfort that results from seeing things in a way that apparently makes sense.  We seldom consciously give up a perspective to search for another lens through which to view events.  As a result we stop thinking, and that’s almost always a bad thing.  [Don’t get carried away.  I’m not advocating analysis-paralysis.]

Outsiders can shake us out of that groove.  They ask and make us generate answers to fundamental questions that insiders bypass, and cause our neurons to fire and consider what is essential to achieve what needs to be accomplished.  According to Pat Murray, they help to see that “the problem named is the problem solved.”  The outsiders’ questioning may be their most important contribution (more in praise of questions in a subsequent blog), but they also bring a different set of experiences into the conversation.  Think of it as a booster injection of diversity, with the resulting favorable impact on adaptability and success.

From an organizational perspective, the newbies analyze from the outside, rather than emote from the inside.  Try this the next time you’re facing a personal or professional problem.  As best you can, step outside of the problem and analyze it.  Hard, huh?  It’s tough to shift focus of thought from right-brain to left-brain thinking.  [Whole-brain is best, especially in comparison to the fourth option, no-brain.] Danielle LaPorte said “the very act of being clear on what you fear transforms it; it’s not fear any more, but knowledge.” This is a major benefit brought by outsiders.  And they are more likely to embrace the collective commitment rather than pursue a personal agenda.  That said, be aware of outsiders who act as provocateurs, lobbing grenades for the sake of creating chaos.

Finally, outsiders can be seen as catalysts.  Just as in your high school chemistry text book definition, the catalyst enables the reaction to happen without being an ingredient.  The reaction needed something that was missing.  Hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water… but not without a spark.  That is the most important value consultants can provide.  But whether you pay for outsiders to come in, or add them by recombining teams, add them.  And celebrate them.  You can’t afford to live without them.