When you need to get or test a new idea, do you typically ask people in your company, in a close social circle, or with a similar background? Asking frequent, familiar sources is easy to do, and if the question is just what to get for lunch, it may be a great approach.
However, if you are looking for fresh thinking, this tactic is sub-optimal. A better method, according to network science, is to solicit ideas from someone who has a different industry work background.
You might agree that diversity would be helpful, but wonder how to find those with a different background within your organization. How do you get ideas from people outside of your company or industry?
1. Dormant Ties Are an Untapped Resource
To widen your network and receive more diverse ideas, Wharton Professor Adam Grant suggests soliciting ideas from “dormant ties,” people in your network who know you well (and you trust) but who you don’t speak with very often.
When I’ve encouraged friends to reach out to past work colleagues or school mates on LinkedIn, I’ve sometimes encountered resistance. Women, in particular, are often reluctant to reach out, giving reasons like, “It’s been a long time since we’ve spoken, and they will just think I want something.”
In my experience, this sort of reluctance to reach out is the product of flawed thinking. I encourage everyone to reach out to dormant ties. You are likely to be surprised at just how willing they are to connect with you and by the new thinking they bring.
2. Peer Groups Help You Meet New People and Widen Your Experience
Some companies, like Johnsonville Sausage, have collaboration and diversity built into their cultures. In a worksession at Johnsonville, I was impressed by the quality of dialog, along with the organization’s commitment to learning, listening to the market, and getting ideas from all employees. Johnsonville CEO Ralph Stayer wrote about this culture in his book Flight of the Buffalo.
But most of us don’t work for Johnsonville. How do we meet new people and widen our experiences outside of our immediate colleagues?
One effective way is to join a mastermind peer group that includes peers from other industries. Members and their moderator make the commitment to invest time with monthly meetings to solve the toughest business issues. Individuals are encouraged to remain open to learning and feedback from peers. You’ll solicit an outside perspective, not from your industry. This usually leads to valuable, fresh thinking.
What other methods have you found for growing your network and broadening your thinking?