Recently I had the pleasure of talking with a Danish company at their annual meeting in Dubai. It reminded me that some of the most instructive client relationships I have (especially the long-term ones) are those that provide me with a global perspective. It also reminded me of this newsletter article I wrote several years ago…
Some of you may have heard the story of the truck stuck under the bridge and the dilemma of how to get it unstuck. If you don’t know it, I’ll share it at the end of this post.
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 particularly thought-provoking. His company’s research had shown that experiencing another culture had a significant impact on one’s strategic thinking. He further explained that “experiencing” a culture didn’t mean going there on vacation for a week or two.
It is 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 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?
Seek out Projects That Involve Global Teams. It’s not the same as working overseas, but working on projects with global teams is a great start. It will expose you to different ways of thinking, conversing, and decision-making. Regardless of your role, really listen to others.
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 organization, issues, etc.
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. It helps you see the forest for the trees. One of the things that made Steve Jobs so successful at product design was that he thought about products and perspectives he gained from things like digital animation architecture.
Hire people who are different from you. I hesitate to say hire for diversity because too often that is narrowly defined. In addition to the more commonly referenced and important diversity categories, we can hire for diversity of thought, experiences, and education. Also, the US has new populations from other cultures within the country that can be brought onto teams. So, if working globally isn’t possible, the US still has a rich population of people to choose from. 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 to think more strategically.
So, the story about the truck stuck under the bridge goes like this… A truck was stuck under a bridge, backing up traffic. The police, fire and tow truck drivers were trying to figure out how to get it out, but they had no workable solution. 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.”
Among other things, the story illustrates how important it is to look for and value unique perspectives, especially those outside your typical orbit. Something a more global perspective can provide us.