The ‘Outsider Mindset’

In his book Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed shares some interesting data:

  • 43% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants (or their children)
  • Immigrants are twice as likely to become entrepreneurs
  • Although they account for only 13% of the US population, immigrants account for 27% of all US entrepreneurs
  • Half of the US-based Nobel Prize winners were born abroad
  • What do Elon Musk, Walt Disney, Henry Ford and Arianna Huffington all have in common? They are all immigrants (or children of immigrants).

The point Syed makes is that an immigrant perspective is responsible for many innovations and business successes.  Given their exposure to different cultures and perspectives, immigrants are better able to generate new and creative ideas than those without a similar experience or insight.

He calls this the Outsider Mindset.

What is the Outsider Mindset?

The Outsider Mindset is the ability to step away from convention and view a challenge from a different/novel perspective – something that we absolutely must do in order to innovate.

For those who have not had opportunity to live abroad, there are other ways to learn to be creative.  As one study has shown, Nobel Laureates are typically also proficient in other disciplines like playing musical instruments, drawing, writing and drama.   This is also the case with entrepreneurs and inventors.  Diverse skills and disciplines can replace experience of living in a different culture yet offer a broader perspective – an Outsider Mindset.  This allows one to look at a problem and apply learnings from other experiences that may have nothing to do with the matter at hand.  Like putting wheels on suitcases or dispensing water from fridges.  Two ideas from unrelated functions that are brought together to create a third idea or solution.

It takes the mindset of an outsider to come up with an insight like this.

How can we cultivate an Outsider Mindset at work?

One suggested way to do this is to turn assumptions on their heads in order to liberate the Outsider Mindset in us.

Here’s an example:

Instead of assuming that all employees of a company must be located in the same place as the company’s offices, assume that employees do not need to be located at the ‘epicentre’ of the business and, instead, can do the job from anywhere in the world.  By doing that, you instantly open up the pool of candidates for these jobs to people anywhere in the world and, as a result, stand to hire with greater levels of diversity.

What is the connection to Diversity?

People with an Outsider Mindset can bring huge benefits to an organisation, bringing innovation that can be transformative. However, if they are perceived as being ‘different’ or not fitting the required criteria, they may in fact be excluded from contributing fully and struggle to be heard.  An inclusive environment – one that seeks out different voices BECAUSE they’re different – is one that stands to benefit the most.   As Matthew Syed quotes: ‘To become a visionary, you have to take the perspective of an outsider in order to see things that are taken for granted by insiders.  Possibilities and opportunities become most apparent when you are confronting a problem with fresh perspective.’

Do you want to find out how to transform your work environment to one that can harness diversity of thought?  Get in touch to discuss how we can help.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy reading Seven Steps to Handling Change Without Pain