The human mind is like a map: every fact you know is like an intersection, and every connection between those facts is like a road. When you know a lot about a subject, a big nest of intersections builds up around that subject until it forms a town; a metropolis if you’re a genuine expert.
Some roads are quite short, leading from one closely-related fact to another. Others are huge, cross-country highways connecting two seemingly-unrelated facts in a way that most outside observers might think is intensely counterintuitive. Why is all this important to how you run your business?
Consider what happens if you take a picture of Seattle from the west and compare it to a picture of Seattle from the north. It is barely recognizable as the same place, isn’t it? The same thing happens to your own ideas when you approach them from a different road on your mind-map; so much so that most of what we call “being creative” is more like drawing roads between far-away subjects within your map.
Having new avenues from which to approach old subjects is the single best way to gain insight into that subject. And that very much includes your business, both as a whole and as individual partitions within the whole.
The Internal Infrastructure
Just like the outside world’s infrastructure, however, your internal roadways deteriorate over time. For example, five years after you stopped studying Japanese, chances are you remember ten or so phrases that ‘stuck with you’ (because you used them in a memorable circumstance, or they mean something you find particularly valuable) and the rest is gone. Unlike the outside world’s infrastructure, you ‘maintain’ the inner infrastructure by traveling the roads; by actually thinking along the connections between facts.
New roads are built the same way; by thinking along new connections you form between two facts. That can happen because you have an intuitive leap, or because you deliberately sit and brainstorm. But most often it happens when someone accidentally or deliberately introduces you to a new idea.
For example, if you were once accustomed to thinking of the wages you pay your employees as a negative line item on the balance sheet, you probably wanted to minimize those wages. But if you later came to believe that companies who pay their employees significantly above the minimum wage have lower turnover, greater productivity, and improved morale, you might think of wages as an investment in your bottom line rather than a subtraction from it. This could change your entire outlook on how you treat and relate to your employees.
Paying for Insight
When you hire outside expertise, whether they call themselves a ‘mentor’ or a ‘project liaison’ or even an ‘advisory board member,’ a solid part of what you are paying for is the opportunity to have someone look at your business from an in-road that you currently don’t have on your map. As professional business counselors, they make a living by having a more complex, more intensely interconnected map around the metropolis of How Businesses like Yours Successfully Operate. Every dollar of value you get from them is not a dollar they created; rather, it is one you are currently leaving on the table, but you will never know it until someone shows you your own business from a new perspective.
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