I thought about that story at a recent professional meeting where the topic was developing a global mindset. All of the speakers had interesting perspectives to share and one in particular made a point that was very thought provoking. His company’s research had shown that experiencing another culture had a significant impact on one’s strategic thinking. Experiencing didn’t mean going on vacation each year. It was immersive, longer term experiences like ex pat assignments or managing global teams where you had to travel to work within their culture.
The speaker noted that these assignments have this profound impact because they change your perceptions and perspectives on the world, how it is organized and how it functions. These different perspectives allow you to be more nuanced in your thinking about how different parts of a whole interact, the variables that impact it, and the implications.
How, then, can someone stretch their perceptions and perspectives and develop their strategic thinking when working globally isn’t a possibility?
Regularly interact with people in a different function or area of the company. Marketers and engineers don’t think alike. Operations folks think differently from researchers. See how someone different from you may be experiencing the same issues or organization.
Interact with those outside your industry. For years, benchmarking was the buzzword when you wanted to get a more strategic perspective and to understand the industry more broadly. The problem is that it is a closed-system approach. Biotechs benchmark other biotechs. Car manufacturers benchmark other car manufacturers. The perspective of someone in a totally different industry about your issue or situation will cause you to think about the variables and interactions more broadly, more strategically.
One of the things that made Steve Jobs so successful at product design was that he strategically thought about products with perspectives he gained from digital animation, architecture and technology.
Hire people who are different from you. I hesitate to say hire for diversity because too often that is narrowly defined. A benefit the U.S. has is that we are a land of immigrants. We have new populations from other cultures within our own country and we can bring them onto our teams. We can also hire for diversity of thought, experiences, or education among many other factors. Then regularly ask those you’ve hired for perspective and input on the business issues you are working to address.
Thinking about your daily business interactions expansively will help you develop the broader perspective needed for strategic thinking.
So, the story of the truck stuck under the bridge goes like this. A truck was stuck under a bridge, backing up traffic. The police and tow trucks were there trying to figure out how to get it out and it wasn’t budging. A little boy walked up and asked what was going on. The police officer explained the dilemma. The little boy looked at him and said, “Let the air out of the tires.”
About Edith Onderick-Harvey
Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.