Getting out of your bubble

London, 2014 (Ian Sanders)

When we work in an organisation or industry it’s hard not to become stuck into a fixed way of thinking, behaving and working. It happens by stealth. We’re often not aware of doing the same things the same way. We’re in a bubble.

But it’s not healthy to breathe in the same air day in, day out. Enclosed by the walls around us, it’s difficult to stand back and get the perspective we need, or to take learnings from other industries and disciplines. Enclosed in our world, we’re less open to ideas about other ways of doing things.

It’s a bubble that needs bursting. And when I work with teams and organisations, part of what I do is to encourage people out of their bubble, opening their eyes to often what’s right in front of them, and getting them looking at things differently.

The beauty of this approach is that it actually only takes a few nudges in the right direction to give a fresh perspective. It can be something as simple as getting teams out of their natural habitat, or getting outside and really looking and experiencing what’s going on around you.

On my last ‘Re-ignite’ workshop I got my client out of their usual location and into a rough and ready co-working space at the other end of the city to the client’s smart office block. Similarly on my storytelling workshops for the BBC, I run an exercise called Story Safari where teams leave the training room and get out onto the streets.

You don’t have to go far from the office either to get results. In fact, all it takes is a mindshift: different space, different way of looking at things. When I ran a BBC session in Glasgow, one of the journalists went to a cafe in a working-class neighbourhood that she’d previously never visited. She said she learned more about that part of the city in sixty minutes than she had in the twenty five years she’d driven through it on the way to work. Just last week in London, a journalist ended up on a social housing estate ten minutes walk from his desk. Again, it was a revelation. “I’d never had a reason to go there before,” he told me. Yet it unlocked something critical: an understanding of another side of the city.

Another way to get a new perspective on your business is to ask your customers. Sure, it sounds so obvious, yet in practice business leaders don’t often invest time in walking in their customer shoes. On a recent Re-ignite workshop where I invited one of my client’s customers to speak, a member of the senior management team said that experience had given him the greatest understanding of what the business actually does in twelve years working there.

Getting away from the narrow sphere of your experience sparks ideas and innovation. When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO in 2008 he convened an offsite with the management team in Seattle. The brand had lost its way and the soul of the brand was at risk. He knew they needed to put the customer back at the heart of everything they did. At the end of the first day, the team split up and went out and about, immersing themselves in some of Seattle’s homegrown retailers. At a cheese counter in a large food market, Schultz was struck by the woman behind the counter and her level of expertise. Chatting to her, he was floored to discover that she had only been working there six months. Her passion and care was so evident and belied the short time she’d worked there. That single experience with the cheese-counter woman prompted a retraining exercise. Schultz closed 7,000 stores for three and a half hours to retrain baristas to make the perfect espresso.

It’s hardly rocket science — unshackling people from their desks and buildings, and getting outside; being exposed to other opinions, perspectives and ways of doing things.

So how can you get out of your bubble? Here are five ideas:

  1. Just get outside the bloody office! I’ve worked with organisational teams whose people drive to work, going straight into a basement car park, taking the lift to their floor, eating their lunch and having their coffee-break in the same building. They never go out into the city and soak up what’s going on.
  2. Find the UNusual suspects. Are you meeting new people outside of your networks, outside of your business and industry?
  3. Soak up podcasts and magazine articles — different ones to those you’d normally choose.
  4. Swap the boardroom for meetings in coffee shops or walk and talks.
  5. Have your head-up, not head-down. Look around. Be an observer.

I’m a creative consultant, storyteller and coach who helps organisations, teams and individuals get fired-up at work. iansanders.com