Listening to others outside of your industry

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In the first of our trio of leadership blogs, we highlighted the importance of organisations immersing themselves in customer feedback.

We advised leaders to actively listen from within their own organisation in the second blog.

In this final instalment of why listening to others is good for business, we’ll discuss how looking for “business parallels” can help you think more clearly…

It takes no great insight to know that the business environment we now face is very unfamiliar. And that’s just the pandemic, never mind Brexit, digital disruption and the climate crisis. 

Perhaps one of the hidden benefits for leaders is that we need to feel no requirement to ‘know it all’.

No point stressing that we might not be on top of it all, might show a lack of clarity at times. It will happen. It’s a given. So we can relax and humbly seek help. 

Smart leaders look around and adopt and adapt the best ideas from other businesses. Yet some only focus on the competition. We reckon that this is an unhelpfully narrow approach. We reckon you need to look outside your own industry, otherwise you’ll only be as good as your nearest competitor. 

The best way to do this is the oldest trick in the business playbook – networking

Talk to other business leaders, first hand, about how they are facing up to the same issues as you, but in a different sector. 

This exposure to real world success (and failure) can inspire teams to adopt new approaches that direct competitors haven’t considered, and thus gain a competitive edge. 

Larry Huston was head of innovation at Proctor and Gamble for many years. He believes that future competitive advantage will depend upon “innovation networks”.

Professor Ronald Burt of Chicago University agrees that innovative ideas have social origins. “This is not creativity born of genius; it is creativity as an import-export business.”

Judith Perle of the London Business School suggests that “innovators aren’t necessarily exceptionally smart people with inventive minds.

They can be just like you and me, but do two very important things differently; they mix with a wide variety of individuals, not just their close friends, and they listen as well as talk.”

You never know where a good idea might come from.

Your network might include C Suite directors from other sectors, but equally, you could seek out academics, elite athletes, charity leaders. Consider the diversity of your network.

Step out of your comfort zone of familiarity and go and hang out with people that aren’t like you. Some might become friends, others more pragmatic professional contacts. 

Effort invested has the potential to yield some incredible results. By listening to others, you may discover the next significant innovation for your organisation. Just consider that gem of an idea chatted about over a coffee to be your next significant commercial success for your organisation? The result of simply listening to someone with curiosity. 

Many entrepreneurial partnerships have been made through simple networking and the meeting of minds. The opportunity to be synergistic together surely cannot be underestimated?

For many, it is the human connection and the mutual recognition of shared values and purpose that drives the conversation to helping and supporting each other for the greater good of both parties. Look at some of the successful brands, such as Not On the High Street, Pret A Manger, WhatsApp, all a result of folk coming together with a “meeting of minds”.

A simple conversation with someone who is very different from ourselves, be it cultural, socio economic, or race will lead to different perspectives, ideas and opportunities. We need to seek these conversations out, broaden our horizons, step away from the familiar and known. Have some courage and bravery to meet with others who are not like ourselves.

But, a word of warning, it is important to build trust. 

Such trust is built by listening – avoiding a preoccupation with making an impression, and trying hard to recognise good ideas. Trust also comes from giving as well as taking. 

So. Hone your active listening ability, polish those social skills, and mingle. 

Want to read a bit more about Diversity & Inclusion? Click this link to read our case study about creating more of an inclusive culture and designing a more diverse behavioural change in your organization.

Summary of our InFocus series of Inclusive Leadership

Knowing that we don’t know it all creates a clear imperative to seek help. We suggest that this should take three forms. 

Seek an ‘outside in’ perspective to your business by a deep immersion in customer behaviour. Rather than classical ‘market research’, which is usefully robust but liable to having awkward findings debated or suppressed, we recommend talking directly to customers, not just about your products, but about their lives.

Not only does this offer the chance to directly understand your customers’ motivations, but it means that inconvenient truths are heard directly by your senior team, unmediated, and unavoidable. 

We’ve also noted that listening to your diverse cohort of colleagues also creates a diversity of understanding of both opportunities and challenges. In seeking out the proud stories from their past work and from their pandemic experience, you gain both a shared understanding within the team, but a shared understanding of what a proud future might look like, and how to get there. 

And finally, we’ve looked at how using business parallels, we gain the opportunity to import the best ideas from outside our own industry and bring them to   bear on our own challenges. This offers the chance to outsmart direct competitors. 

In both adopting such approaches, and in addressing the insights they bring, we advise that you differentiate what is possible (but unlikely) from what is plausible (and lore achievable).  

Our working lives in 2021 will remain complicated, but the more we seek inclusive approaches, the more effective we’ll become. 

To find out more, come and chat to us at If you haven’t had a chance to read our previous two blogs about Inclusive Leadership, sign up for our newsletter where you will receive all three blogs (Including this one!)


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