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‘Outsight’ is the new insight

AHRI CEO Lyn Goodear FAHRI GAICD explains why we need to adopt a new perspective in order to prepare for the future.

According to Oxford’s Richard Pascale, “adults are more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting”.

Building on Pascale’s notion that the way we act drives the way we think rather than the other way around, Herminia Ibarra came up with the idea of ‘outsight’. Ibarra is formerly from the Harvard Business School and is now with INSEAD and the London Business School.

Put simply, outsight is the opposite of insight. What she means by outsight is that by doing new and interesting things with new and different people, we are better placed to adopt what she calls “fresh external perspectives” than we would be if we merely looked for insights by focusing on our past behaviours.

In short, Ibarra believes that a leader is more likely to develop as a leader by acting like a leader rather than by thinking like a leader.

Look outwards

The way I see it, Ibarra’s guidance enables us as leaders to unburden ourselves of unnecessary ballast, so we can be dynamic and advance, rather than moored like a yacht in still water. Her Harvard Business Review paper on ‘The integrity paradox’ performs a similar function, relieving us of a simplistic need to be true-to-self. Ibarra doesn’t use the term, but her thinking builds on what Professor Lynda Gratton would call intangible assets.

Last year, Gratton co-authored with Andrew Scott a groundbreaking book titled The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. One of the focal points of the book is the idea of individual human assets that are beyond wages and salaries, and that point to an organisational value beyond bottom-line book assets.

Gratton and Scott identified three groups of intangible assets: productivity, vitality and transformation.

Future focused

Building productivity assets involves developing foresight about the future skills required to successfully adapt across a longer working life. The assets of physical, mental and emotional vitality are those deemed necessary to adapt, transform and avoid burnout. Gratton and Scott found the most difficult asset to achieve was transformation, in which they said self-insight was central because it helps build the capability and strength required to adapt and change.

While accepting the need for transformation, Ibarra argues that in order to redefine their job role, leaders are better off spending time outside the role by widening their network, and being less intense and more playful with their sense of self.

We have come to accept integrity as the gold standard, as Ibarra puts it. We tend also to believe in the unchallengeable merit of the pursuit of self-reflection and insight. Researchers like Ibarra and Gratton shine a critical light on these apparent axioms. They are open to debate on their research findings, and free us for action unburdened by dead weights. And they give us useful words, like ‘outsight’, that assist our understanding.

At a time when behaviours are one of the key planks of HR certification in Australia, and as we ponder the role of human behaviours in the face of the encroaching takeover by cognitive machines in workplaces, the discussions generated by people like Ibarra and Gratton become increasingly critical.

I am delighted to say that while we have tried in the past to attract Herminia Ibarra to come to Australia, we have now finally succeeded and she has agreed to give a keynote address at the 2018 AHRI National Convention in Melbourne. In addition, we are very fortunate to welcome Lynda Gratton back to the convention this year to give a presentation on her new future of work research.

I look forward to hearing both speakers in Melbourne during August and would love to see you there.

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