Insiders Becoming Outsiders

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May 01, 2017

Insiders Becoming Outsiders

By Tom Dente

President and CEO

Insiders Becoming Outsiders and Doing the Familiar Differently

Over the last several weeks, InsideNGO held five senior leader forums, convening CFOs, COOs, chief strategy officers, executive HR leaders and, for the first time, CEOs from across our membership. While the agendas and issues varied across these forums, one common refrain we heard at all events was the need to assume a broader perspective in confronting new challenges and identifying new opportunities. Equally important, as either implementers or adopters of change, was the growing need to effectively manage change within organizations, recognizing it is not just a prerogative of leaders, but a responsibility of all professionals across the organization. 

One way to cultivate this necessary broader perspective is to assume an “outsider” mindset.  Examining our organizations and our operational capabilities with the mindset of an outsider, unconstrained by past decisions, legacies, and practices, may offer new perspectives. Several guiding questions may prompt this view: If you were starting your role today, as an outsider to your organization, what would you do differently? What questions would you ask? What assumptions would you challenge or changes would you consider? What different priorities would emerge? If you were trying to win a new grant or contract, or attract new talent, in competing against your organization, what would you emphasize? Answering these and similar questions may bring new opportunities and creative solutions to the surface.

In addition to the assuming an outsider mindset to discover or prompt new possibilities, gaining acceptance for necessary changes at all levels is increasingly important. One approach that Connor Advisory discusses in its Leading Transformative Change sessions for InsideNGO members is understanding and, where appropriate, designing change as a series of “familiar things done differently.” 

Originally, author Nir Eyal popularized this concept of the familiar done differently in what he called the “California Roll Rule,” which used the analogy of the growth of traditional Japanese sushi in the US marketplace. In his telling, until the invention of the new California roll, which did not contain raw seafood, sushi’s popularity remained low. But with the introduction of the California roll, US consumers began to feel comfortable trying other types of sushi. This led Eyal to note that in general “people don’t want something truly new, they want the familiar done differently.” Being able to translate necessary changes from the often easy-to-resist “new” into the “familiar done differently” may generate better degrees of acceptance, ownership, and sustainability.  

What does this mean for the InsideNGO community in our current, more challenging environment? Our day-to-day behaviors and interactions offer new opportunities to enhance our cultures and create greater organizational resiliency. Adopting an outsider’s perspective and then embracing change as the familiar done differently may create the best of both worlds: new ideas and solutions, sustained in familiar and tested practices.  

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