During Endeavor’s recent International selection panel, Maura O’Neill (President Obama’s first Chief Innovation Officer) was invited to talk to us about the importance of eliminating narrow-mindedness. Her talk was focused on the incredible business and personal potential of opening our minds to new ideas and opportunities and eliminating people with narrow minds from our lives and workplace. If we take a closer look, this might not be the most common business advice, but rather one whose worth is weight in gold.
Learning from history
History has demonstrated that the people, who have changed the world the most, have always been challenging the status-quo and questioning the conventional thinking:
Galileo for questioning the flatness of the Earth; Winston Churchill for always looking at situations from different perspectives and trying new ways of dealing with the enemies; Mahatma Gandhi for his fearlessness to call for Indian independence; Nelson Mandela for his lifelong commitment to fighting for equal human rights.
Entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Arianna Huffington and Reid Hoffman have experienced multiple setbacks and failures in their business before becoming successful. Open-minded people are not afraid of making mistakes, because they see them purely as an opportunity to learn and grow. They have the ability to find a positive aspect in almost every situation and the existence of troublesome elements is viewed as a minor obstacle and something normal.
The power of perspectives
Often success or failure in business is all about perspectives. The definition of a narrow-minded person is someone with a limited outlook, unwilling to consider alternative perspectives, ideas or thoughts. Driven by fear of change and risk-averse behavior, this intolerant and conservative thinking shuts down innovation and creativity in the workplace. The comfortable and familiar narrow-minded management is also not profitable. We see that the most profitable organizations today, are the ones where people are set free to do their jobs, stimulated to be creative and act on their ideas. An organization cannot progress if its leader is not willing to accept changes or incorporate new methods of management.
Growth is usually viewed as a positive sign, but at Endeavor we often see how growing a business too fast or in the wrong direction can actually lead to its death. Another example is how sometimes someone external, such as an adviser or a consumer of the product or service, can define the biggest issues of an organization. That is why open-minded people are more prone to success; because they see situations from different perspectives – they put themselves in someone else’s shoes, understand why people make certain decisions and what their drivers are.
Open-mindedness leads to innovation
Being open-minded in seeking new ideas and being creative are the keys to innovation. Without these traits, neither people nor companies can really be innovative. The irony is that some of the greatest discoveries of all time almost never occur within one field of expertise. They came from people who took well-established concepts from one field and applied them to new domains – borrowing theories and practices from different industries or using old skills to make contributions into new fields.
Nowadays we can see this concept being applied everywhere: capable people don’t spend an entire career on the same job, they prefer to change jobs regularly, gain experience in more than one industries and thus become more effective; top universities are finding interdisciplinary research as the key to innovation and best practices; most software is developed using the Agile method, which emphasizes cross-functional teams.
Entrepreneurs need to have a firm understanding of their business and the changes that are taking place around them – marketplace, regulatory, IT, production – and the new approaches and techniques available. It is the creative application of this knowledge that allows people to find new and innovative ways to improve.
Being trapped in our own tunnel vision affects our personal lives and work. Back to O’Neills’ lecture, narrow-mindedness can lead to bad choices based on too little information. Her advice for overcoming our own personal narrow-mindedness starts with self-reflection:
- Be outrageously curious – read a book on a topic you don’t know anything about; study the most challenging course for you; go to a department you know nothing about.
- Question the status-quo – often, old ideas and practices are outdated and irrelevant; new ideas and innovations come because people question the old ways of doing things.
- Embrace diversity – research shows that in a diverse group, creativity flows and results improve, due to the different views and perspectives of the members.
Improve your teamwork and communication by incorporating these concepts. Understand why your co-worker is behaving in a certain way by seeing his perspective; have the willingness to be wrong – take in and appreciate others opinions and arguments. We tend to think of strong leadership as being decisive, persistent and unwavering. However, in a world that is constantly changing, leaders’ willingness to change their own minds and be flexible is the real competitive advantage.
Being open-minded is sometimes so overlooked, but can be essential to the success of any business. At Endeavor we encourage entrepreneurs to think big and believe that their businesses can accelerate and have an impact. Be open-minded, expand your knowledge, respect differentness and tackle new ideas and opportunities.