This post is by Jacob Smith, co-author of the The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit. The book is so awesome that I asked Jacob to post adapted excerpts from it here for you, every Friday for ten weeks. Tweet at @brightplus3 if you’re loving it!
Idea insularity is like genetic inbreeding: it leads to stunted growth, malformed appendages, and early death. Find time to expose yourself to a broader ecosystem of ideas and practices (one trick to finding yourself some more time is by shortening meetings; more on this elsewhere in the book). Read business books, marketing blogs, science fiction novels, and international news aggregators. Watch TED videos. Follow thought leaders on Twitter and Google+. Attend presentations at your local university. Have lunch with interesting people who don’t work for nonprofits.
It doesn’t really matter where you get the ideas from—as long as you regularly read and explore outside of your own discipline. Cultivate a practice of engaging in conversations with people who tend to think differently about the world. Poach ideas, steal techniques, and imagine how other ideas might strengthen your own. Add vigor and creativity to your perspectives by regularly traversing beyond the usual suspects you engage with on a daily basis.
In his book about the art of discovery, geophysicist Jack Oliver suggests grabbing a book unrelated to the one you just found in the library stacks, or reading other articles in the journal issue that you originally tracked down for a specific piece. Oliver’s method may sound quaint (how often do people track down books in the library stacks anymore?), but the idea of deliberately exposing yourself to unexpected perspectives and new ideas is important.
Putting yourself into situations that allow for or even foster serendipity (“engineering serendipity,” as blogger and social change researcher Ethan Zuckerman puts it) is a critical inoculation against getting stuck in self-reinforcing echo chambers of assumptions and ideas. As Zuckerman says, spend more time wandering in the wilderness of new ideas, perspectives, and experiences, and spend less time walking familiar paths.