One photo changed the world, how can you change yours?
Diversity of perspective is an important part of innovation, which is a key driver for growth. Look around your table, do you see replicas of yourself or do you have diversity in your team?
A powerful perspective
They weren’t meant to be taking photos at all. Every minute of their time in space had been ruthlessly scheduled by NASA. So, when in a stolen moment, Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, took a brief photo of the earth on December 7th 1972, it was more a disciplinary matter than the creating of an image that would go on to become one of the most reproduced images in history – ‘The Blue Marble.’ The sun was directly behind Schmitt as he took the photo, capturing the world from the Mediterranean to Antarctica, with the clear lines of the African coast cast vividly in the beautiful bright light of day. Playful weather systems chased themselves across vast oceans and muted slabs of land, changing endlessly as they went. It provided a beautiful but life-shifting perspective on the lonely home of mankind. It became a symbol of the nascent environmental movement, while as one of the other astronauts on board that day, Gene Cerrnan, said,
That’s humanity, love, feeling and thought. You wonder, if you could get everyone in the world up there, wouldn’t they have a different feeling?
Adjusting your focus
Now, we appreciate you’re not going to get that same feeling of awe standing in a business park looking up at your office, but the value of seeing your company from different angles still stands. The word ‘perspective’ is best defined as ‘a particular attitude or way of regarding something,’ which seems reasonable enough until you remember that there are as many perspectives as people; so to get as full a picture as you need to make good decisions, you actually need a diversity of perspectives, both of distance and opinion. Zooming out to see your business as an entire entity can provide you with an overall perspective of achievements and challenges, a sort of holistic health-check, while zooming back in can provide a counterview that informs critical decisions; the micro-detail, the specifics, and the interdependencies. But is it possible for one person to have both perspectives at the same time?
A diversity of vision
It’s crucial to invite a diversity of opinions to the table, without it innovation will be inhibited and business change and transformation potential limited. And that’s something business leaders really struggle with, we naturally gravitate towards people we perceive as having the same value system, as wrong as this may be; our unconscious bias kicks in. Look around the table at who is involved in decision making, do you honestly have diversity? Not only diversity of colour or gender, but also diversity of experience and thought. The C-Suite perspective can be informed by those on the frontline who are more tangibly affected by the change, or outside contractors who can help to realign your business with your new objectives. An article from Scientific America called ‘How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,’ stated that,
‘decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups are more innovative than homogenous groups.’
And it’s that diversity of thought and experience that deepens the conversation, helping to trigger new perspectives and innovations, that can come from the most unexpected places. That people fear the psychological risks of change can also be mitigated against by actively seeking out their perspectives. After all, who doesn’t feel better when someone knows and cares about how we feel?
Keep yourself connected
But what happens if you don’t widen your perspective? Well, you stall, that’s what. You even risk complete failure. If you’re too focused on the details, you lose sight of the big picture, and if you only stand back to look at the finished product, you’re blind to the daily nuances and needs that keep your company ticking over. In business, as in life, everything is connected – few things operate successfully in silo, and if they do, that solo success is critical to the success of something else. You simply can’t get away from connection, and that connection can also mean to your rivals and disrupters. Corporate history is full of infamous failures of companies whose singular vision meant that they missed the call to innovate – Kodak, Blockbuster, and MySpace are just three of a growing list. They could only see things from one perspective and failed to consider smaller rivals who were gaining pace with nascent technologies and new markets. So, let’s add in another perspective – the business landscape around you.
Change begets change
While there are various theories of change management, a reliably central tenet of them all is that you can’t change one thing without changing another. Again, think of the Earth and its tectonic plates bumping against each other; that they do so means that other things are forced to shift, too; continents move further apart, buildings collapse and tsunamis are triggered from terrible depths. So, to understand and execute change well, we must be able to understand the implications that the change will make; a department-level change is a dangerous undertaking if we don’t explore the effect on other departments. Meanwhile, an ambitious company-wide change will involve not just systems and processes, but all your people too, which drives complexity and without the necessary buy-in, you might as well not bother. Let’s use another astronomical example; on return to Earth an astronaut will need physiotherapy and psychological support in order to rebalance the body and mind, one without the other will not suffice. Nothing changes independently and nothing heals independently, which means that when it comes to business, it takes a rounded perspective to fully appreciate and support change, identify and mitigate risks, and get your people on board.
Invite in an outsider
Working with an external specialist business change company can also be a great idea, for the simple reason that they come without preconceived notion, they are unaffected by company politics, are neutral in their approach, and have first-hand insight into how similar companies have tackled the same challenges. Just as someone looking through your wardrobe or bookshelves will invariably find the one thing you haven’t worn or read, inviting outsiders to look at the same view you’ve been chewing over will give rise to a different perspective on what you have, want, or want to become and as such can offer up a perspective that an internal just wouldn’t be able to provide.
A unifying vision
One of the poignancies of the Blue Marble is how beautiful the world looks from a distance, when the struggle, disease, and distress of life is easy to see when you’re actually on the surface. Of course, a perspective is neither right nor wrong, but the decision not to seek out as many as you can, will lead you to bump into blind spots that you’d have otherwise been able to avoid. When the Blue Marble was photographed, everyone was experiencing something different. Some people died as the shutter clicked, while others were born. Some slept, others ate, some were stuck in traffic, while others undoubtedly drifted free from a boring moment or difficult conversation. No individual experience was the same, but the uniting force of a new perspective changed the way that the world saw itself, and how humans regarded their home. Treat your business in the same way, get different perspectives and try and find a unified vision, be in awe of what you can achieve together.
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