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The Advantage of Being an Outsider in Business

Outsiders are able to better connect disparate thoughts.


What is the "outsider advantage"? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Several of the breakthroughs we discuss in our book, ALIEN Thinking: The Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas, involve people who were outsiders in the field to which they contributed.

This is no accident. Research shows that outsiders often find it easier to reason like ALIEN thinkers and develop novel solutions. In many cases, outsiders are able to better connect disparate thoughts because they come to the table with fewer preconceptions than insiders.

In one research study, for example, separate groups of carpenters, roofers, and in-line skaters were asked for ideas on how to improve the design of carpenters’ respirator masks, roofers’ safety belts, and skaters’ kneepads. Independent assessment of the solutions showed that each group was significantly better at coming up with novel solutions for the fields outside their own.

Moreover, while examining 166 problem-solving contests posted on the InnoCentive innovation platform, Harvard Business School professor Karim Lakhani found that the winning entries were more likely to come from “unexpected contributors” with “distant fields” of expertise who are foreign to the focal field of inquiry.

The key is to think like an outsider, even if you are an insider!

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