The special power of the outsider to solve problems

Solving problems is hard at the best of times but trying to solve one when you are entrenched in the current thinking is even more difficult. Being on the inside means you are inundated with data about the problem, surrounded by people all thinking about the problem and no end of tried and tested solutions that don’t get you any closer to fixing the problem. It can work successfully this way but historically some of the most ground breaking ideas have come from an outsider (Einstein came up with his best work during his many years spent outside of academia and working at a patent office). Someone who can see the big picture, bring into play ideas that haven’t been considered before and take the license to tackle the problem in their own way. In a work environment, you often see outsiders brought in to try and solve a problem but all too often within a few months of on-boarding, they find themselves just as weighed down as everyone else on the inside, facing the same obstacles.

The outsider must think of the solution and try to solve it as an outsider to have the most impact.

This might mean bringing in the new outsider but keeping them shielded in the work environment while they are free to work in their own way.

Many companies, and particularly those in Silicon Valley, don’t make it easy for the outsider. The bubble like communities built in academic institutions and technology companies are perfect places for insiders to thrive. People who use the same sources of data, the same type of people to think about the problems, and the same types of solutions. An outsider is unlikely to break through without becoming an insider themselves. If we want to encourage diversity of thought, a key advantage of the outsider, we need to make sure they stay as outsiders and away from the culture that already exists. The outsider needs to be sought after, they won’t want to be on the inside, working to a timeline and dealing with a number of projects at the same time, That’s because while an outsider is ruthlessly focused they will work only when they feel ready and often in unpredictable patterns – and as you’d expect this doesn’t fit in well with the typical work methods in most companies.

With the kinds of challenges technology organizations are facing today like protecting privacy, combatting fake news, safeguarding security and preventing bias, we need to be seeking the help of a lot more outsiders to try and come up with the best solutions.

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