Why Practicing Outsight is Critical to your Leadership

Here are 4 ways you can start practicing it today

We all know that business leaders get paid for their expertise, experience and insights, but the brightest and most impactful among them go a step further: they practice outsight.


What’s outsight, you ask?

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the power or act of perceiving external things.”

Those external things may include ideas, information, experiences, perspectives, analyses, strategies, critiques (and much more) that originate from outside the four walls of your organization.

Practicing outsight is a process by which you purposefully allow your people and yourself to be exposed to (and interact with) the reality and ideas of the outside world.

As a leader, this allows you to zoom out to survey the landscape for market shifts, threats or opportunities. This enriches your thinking and opens your mind to new possibilities, which you would never have seen otherwise.

By combining your insights with your ability to practice outsight, you can drive powerful change and improve results in your organization.

Here are 4 ways you can practice this important leadership strategy:

  1. Start a book club at your company

    The fastest, easiest and most cost-effective way to develop outsight is to read books. Periodicals, white papers and other types of written works are good, but books are more densely packed with ideas that are more deeply developed.

    By starting a book club at work you are in essence amplifying outsight by enjoying the benefit of external ideas which are then filtered through the insights of others in the organization. That discussion can generate rich experiences and ideas for innovative action within the organization.

  2.  Start or join a mastermind group with other leaders

    “What are you seeing and experiencing out there?”

    That’s one of my favorite questions for the members of the mastermind groups I’ve participated in. A mastermind group is composed of busy leaders committed to personal growth and development who come together to share their ideas and goals, and to commit to holding others and themselves accountable. Interacting with such a group is an excellent way to practice outsight because members are actively operating in other industries, which helps us appreciate how our challenges are both similar and different.

  3. Invite experts to give a talk

    Why not invite local authors, business experts, university professors, movers & shakers and leaders of other local organizations to speak to your team about their challenges, ideas and experiences. This provides everyone involved with a golden opportunity to practice outsight and learn from each other. It also has the added benefit of promoting  trust and creating community around your brand.

  4. Practice immersion

    The most powerful way to practice outsight is to venture out beyond the metaphorical four walls of your organization and  immerse yourself in someone else’s world. Whether it be the world of customers, your customers’ customer (i.e. end user), vendors, competitors, or non-industry organizations. The possibilities are endless and may even encompass far-flung locales. This helps you understand how different players make their contribution along the value chain of your industry.

    You may also consider immersing yourself in “analogous experiences.” One such example is how hospitals have famously immersed themselves in the world of Formula 1 pit crews to draw ideas and inspiration from the immaculate timing and speedy synchronization of race teams. The ideas generated were then be applied to the countless hand-offs of patients  within hospitals, especially after critical surgeries.

    Practicing outsight through immersion can trigger powerful insights and point to further exploration that can reshape your own work; which leads us to a crucial point.

The Act of Pushing Beyond Your Current Boundaries Changes You as a Leader

In her book Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, Herminia Ibarra provides an eloquent argument for why practicing outsight is so crucial for leaders in today’s world:

“…the only way to think like a leader is to first act: to plunge yourself into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done. Those freshly challenging experiences and their outcomes will transform the habitual actions and thoughts that currently define your limits. In times of transition and uncertainty, thinking and introspection should follow action and experimentation—not vice versa. New experiences not only change how you think—your perspective on what is important and worth doing—but also change who you become.”

In essence, your responsibility as a leader is not only to apply what you know but to act in ways that refresh and enrich your understanding of the world with new ideas, places, people and experiences. And your job is to teach your people to do the same.

photo courtesy of francesco scaramella