Her research shows that who you go to for advice can make or break you.
From her work in organizational psychology and informal social networks, Dr. Perry-Smith found that if you rely solely on family or friends for feedback then you risk stifling your imagination.
Why? Because your inner circle shares your worldview and your creativity is undermined when you hear something out of the norm from those you spend time with the most. Your close contacts are so much like you that you don’t really listen to them, or appreciate a new approach if they present it.
I experienced this last week with my teenage daughter. We went shopping and I commented on something I thought would look nice. She ignored my suggestion. The store clerk recommended a very similar item, which my daughter immediately bought. She didn’t listen to me – her father – but she took the advice of a complete stranger in the mall.
Dr. Perry-Smith says this happens frequently when you seek counsel from friends and family.
Her suggestion? Always have a stranger in our midst; someone we include in our circle that can give a fresh perspective.
At work, established teams should tap a new co-worker and encourage them to ask questions and make suggestions. This outside stimulus causes alternative solutions to be explored. Problems are seen in an entirely different light because of a new outlook.
Another way to tap into an outsider’s view–read a book or listen to a podcast. Pick something that is outside your work or typical interests. I listen to several podcasts–Criminal, This American Life and Hidden Brain, for example–that have nothing to do with my day-to-day work. The refreshing perspectives of those that are interviewed help me tap into a different part of my brain.
Developing a product or service? As crazy as it sounds, try pitching the idea to people on the street. Our friends can be more supportive–or critical–because they want to protect us. A perfect stranger is likely to give you their honest opinion, especially if you don’t present yourself as the creator or endorser of the idea.
Dr. Perry-Smith’s ultimate advice–“Those that we don’t know well could be the ones we need to listen to the most.” Someone with a different agenda or viewpoint may be just what you need to get you out of a rut so you can open your mind and explore different possibilities.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.