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May 20, 2019

Are You Exposed Enough?

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How many of your Facebook friends, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, etc., think differently from you? Are all your friendship circles a “footprint of one”? In other words, are all of your friends/followers/connections generally the same person with very little diversity?

Some years ago I remember being on a panel and the question was asked—Do you think people really change? That really challenged me. Because more times than not, I didn’t see people changing and growing but rather just getting older being the same person they had always been. Myself included.

What about you? Have you changed much in your thinking about money over the years? How about politics? Personal habits? The way you spend your time? If you have changed, what was it that pushed you in that direction?  

In my experience, we change our opinions almost always through exposure—kind of like when Jimmy Fallon tasted some Australian food.

Here are four things I think exposure to new ideas helps with:

1. Diversity of opinion stimulates creativity
Outside perspective is the parent of innovation. In this Harvard Business Review article, the authors argue that business leaders must get outside perspective—sometimes, far outside perspective. The article details how carpenters, roofers, and inline skaters were recruited to give insight on safety gear. One of the graphics in the article shows that the skaters came up with radically new ideas for how to design safety masks for carpenters compared with the carpenters themselves or even with the roofers.  

This is one reason why businesses talk about cross-training employees. Knowing different perspectives helps you think about problems from all angles; not just the angle you’re currently using.

2. Increased humility quotient
Newsflash: You don’t know everything. As Ken Blanchard wrote, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”  

I serve on the board of Praxis. Every year, Praxis brings together 25-50 entrepreneurs (profit and non-profit) and 50-100 mentors from some of the top companies and organizations in the world. And every year, I always walk away realizing how many great ideas are out there that I’ve never thought of. Contrast that with a lot of executives I meet who have spent decades in charge. Consequently, they’ve never had a bad idea … as far as they know.  

This is not to say you should abandon your ideas and convictions. I just agree with the painter Walter Darby Bannard, who said, “An ivory tower is a fine place as long as the door is open.” We all need to be reminded that we don’t know it all.   

3. Leave thinking and start doing (and vice versa)
Walt Disney said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing.” For those of us who are talkers, we need to expose ourselves to some doers and learn from them.

I have a friend who calls this “lecture” vs. “lab.”  You talk about ideas in the lecture hall, but in the lab, beakers break and chemicals spill, and you’ve got to learn from that experience. Don’t just think about ways to make a difference—make a difference today. Don’t live online, as this Entrepreneur article says.  Try stuff (right after you finish reading this blog post).

Exposure allows us to learn from those who are already doing. You say you have a way to solve poverty, but who do you actually know who lives in poverty? It takes that exposure to understand the complexity of the situation.  

The opposite is true as well. For those of us who live with the mantra “Run fast and break things,” we’re often amazed by the wisdom of those who look at our practices from afar. It’s like a farmer who views the earth from a plane and sees landscape patterns that shape his decisions. Pull out sometimes and gain some exposure from 30,000 feet.

4. Speak about your convictions with confidence
There’s an old saying: “A man with a testimony is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.”  The more exposure you have, the more confidently you can believe (and articulate) your own position. Over the years, I’ve been able to avoid a lot of business mistakes and I’ve developed a lot of guiding principles from watching people run all different kinds of businesses in all different settings. That’s why I’m more confident now than I was three decades ago. I’ve got a bigger pool of experience to pull from.

We live in a world of argument. That means the best arguer wins. But when you put yourself in situations where you experience the testimony, then impressive rhetoric alone won’t sway you. Leaders need fortitude and staying power, and exposure helps them develop those character qualities.

How do you get exposure?
Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” I think the issue is learning, not specifically reading. Discipline yourself to get exposure to new ideas. How do you do that?

  • Go places you wouldn’t normally go: Drive the back road, shop at the place you don’t like, try a new restaurant, visit a state park, go to a different kind of cultural event or concert or sporting event or craft fair.
  • Turn off your phone and computer and just look. Usually, we use our phones to look at the apps we already have and the Instagram pictures of the friends we already have. Instead, use idle time to look around and notice things and people.
  • Talk to people you wouldn’t normally interact with. Cross the lines of economics, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, vocation, and have conversations. You don’t have to agree with them, but get in the habit of listening to them.
  • In the workplace, ask for varied perspectives. I’m not just talking about focus groups here. Talk with people throughout the organizational chain, and talk with people who have been with your organization for varying amounts of time.

Get more exposure. I am not sure where, how, and when. But get it. You and all those in your stakeholder orbit will be glad you did.

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