Why is it so hard to open up to other perspectives when “thinking outside the box” is the one of the mantras of innovation? In this blog, Susanna Bill provides concrete advise for how to practice in order to make other perspectives less scary, using the experience of Cirque du Soleil as a mini case.

A couple of weeks ago I went to see the show Saltimbanco by Cirque du Soleil. I had seen them once before, in Los Angeles 1996. At that time the experience was something unheard of and it totally blew my mind. Their art form, Nouveau Circus, was completely new and to be honest I never quite viewed the show as circus; more like a flowing dream of fantastic and mind blowing acts that melted together in a saga. Years later, when Blue Ocean Strategy entered the strategy top ten list, to be I reconnected with Cirque du Soleil as they were used as one of the key cases used by the authors Kim and Mauborgne to explain what Blue Ocean strategy was all about.

Blue Ocean or not, I was just as filled with the experience two weeks ago as I was in the tent at Santa Monica Beach in 1996. I will tell you why. It is because Cirque de Soleil knows by heart that true magic happens in the moment of surprise when you as a spectator realize that they defy how “it should be” and change perspective (which by the way is what Blue Ocean Strategy is all about). What happens if the artists, instead of doing anything to stay in the trapeze fall off all the time? Or if the Chinese poles are invaded by artists performing all sorts of acts simultaneously, instead of the artists performing solo acts one by one? This to me is why Cirque Du Soleil has enjoyed such tremendous success, is truly genius and express one of the major challenges to becoming innovative, namely that of not accepting given truths and change perspectives completely.

I am a very value driven person, which may have something to do with being ENFP according to the Meyers-Briggs type indicator. Being value driven means that I have a very strong internal compass or gut feeling, making it very easy for me to make up my mind of what I think and hence how I should act in various situations. The downside is that I tend to think that my perspective is more truthful that the other persons, especially if I sense that the other persons values collide with my own. I find it extremely challenging to change perspective, especially if I have convinced myself that mine is the right one.

Why then is it so challenging to open up and embrace other perspectives? It has to do with more than values. It is the comfort zone that stands in the way. Challenging your perspectives, and as in my case questioning my values is quite tough, especially since values are part of every persons auto pilot grid helping us to navigate through the myriad of decision points every day. If the autopilot is on too long, then we tend to get stuck into the comfort zone of our perspectives.

So what do I do? I force myself to practice what it would be like to turn things around. There are some great methods for opening up your mind forcing you to look at the issue at hand from another perspective. One exercise is to remove one core component from your value proposition and ideate, for example what if you had a restaurant without food, what would your offer be? The guests would bring the food for the chefs to cook, forcing the chefs to invent new dishes constantly according to the taste of the customer. A bit more “user orientated” compared to a regular restaurant? Another, one of my favorites, is to really turn the perspectives upside down. For example, if the challenge is to increase the number of female employees, ideate around “how can we create a work place in which no females would want to work”. Go through the ideas and turn them around again into ideas that in fact would invite female co-workers.

At the end of the day it is all about me and you. If you want change you have to start with yourself and actively make the choice of practicing other perspectives. Doing so will help us, not only to appreciate other perspectives but actively embrace them with the understanding that they will make innovation richer and better compared to what any oneself is able to. This is part of the DNA of Cirque du Soleil.

About the author

Susanna is the former Head of Innovation at Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications. In 2009 she founded Sustenance AB and since then shares her time between advising corporate leaders in how to make innovation happen by strengthening the innovation capabilities of their organizations, and pursuing a PhD at the department of Design Sciences at Lund University, focusing on the social processes that are beneficial for the innovation capabilities of self organizing teams. Susanna is a sought after speaker and panelist and the moderator of Innovation in Mind conference.