“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.” — Nelson Mandela
Human beings have a natural tendency to surround themselves with those who share similar backgrounds and ideas. We’re all biologically programmed to avoid discomfort, and focusing your time and attention on those who share your perspective often feels very comfortable.
Unfortunately, it can also cause us to fall into echo chambers, where the buildup of sameness leads to the rejection of new perspectives and fresh ideas that could enrich our lives, enhance our workplaces and advance organizational innovation — ensuring our businesses stand the test of time.
One of the traits many great leaders share is the ability to regularly step outside their comfort zone and get a broader look at the world. It’s no accident that most of the world’s great innovations sprang from the minds of people who dared to consider the world from other points of view.
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for easing out of your echo chamber and opening the door to new perspectives:
Seek out new places and faces
One of the best ways to expose yourself to new ideas and perspectives is by networking with different people/groups and attending different events. Often the most impactful step you can take is simply making an honest, deliberate effort to seek out places and faces you don’t normally see.
Learn to celebrate differences
One of the first things you notice when you step outside of your chamber is that you’ll start meeting a lot more people with whom you don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s often the spark that ignites innovation. Of course, that assumes you spend just as much time listening and learning as you do attempting to persuade others that you are right.
Take time to self-reflect
Reflect on these new experiences and evaluate whether your increased understanding of differing ideas can help you be a better leader. And, if you come to realize that you’ve made incorrect assumptions about people or ideas in the past, don’t be afraid to own it. We all have biases — but good leaders learn to recognize them and work constantly to reduce their impact on critical organizational decision-making.
Bring your network along for the ride
Once you’ve truly stepped outside your echo chamber, you will have formed valuable new relationships. Nurture these new relationships carefully. Over time, the bridge you’ve built will help to connect others in your network with people and ideas they would not have experienced if you hadn’t made the decision to get out of your comfort zone. It’s never easy to confront our biases. When we do, we become better leaders and we create a climate that is ripe for innovation and sustainable growth — both personally and professionally.
This post originally appeared in Smart Business Magazine on July 31, 2017