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We all know the importance of focus, of eliminating distractions. I’ve written about it in this blog. Book after book, blog posts all preach the concepts of disciplined focus, minimizing distraction, keeping our eyes on our goals, keeping our eyes on the ball.

It’s very important, too few people do this–generally top performers are viciously focused.

But sometimes this focus is limiting, we become prisoners of our own experiences.

Sometimes, we gain new perspectives, we get new ideas, we consider alternatives we might never have considered when we look at things completely outside what we normally do.

Studying an industry or market completely different—and distant from the markets you normally focus on can give us new ideas to consider applying to what we do.

Some years ago, I facilitated an “innovation” workshop between two disparate groups. One group came out the the semiconductor industry, they sat on one side of the table in their blue shirts/khakis. The other group was in an extreme sports business, they sat at the other side of the table, wearing torn T-shirts, motorcycle leathers, full sleeves of tattoos, and the visible piercings were in interesting places.

As we started, each side discussed some of the things they did in their businesses, some things they did to innovate, and a variety of approaches to engaging customers, learning and engaging customers.

As the conversations progressed, each side learned huge things from the other. What was common and standard practice for the extreme sports folks, was new and innovative to the semiconductor team–and vice versa.

Each group found new ideas to innovate simply by adopting what had been common practice in a distant industry and adapting it for their own organization. I have called this “artful plagiarism.”

There are other things we can do to broaden our perspectives, reading materials far outside what we normally read. If you normally read books on sales/marketing; try reading history, philosophy, great works of literature. Alternatively, next time you are about to jump on an airplane, go to the newsstand and pick up 2-3 magazines you would never read.

Go to a trade show or conference that’s not directly related to your company or your job.

When you are on the road/traveling, take a few hours and do something different–go to a museum or gallery, understand the history of the place you are visiting.

In projects within your own company/organization, invite people from different functions to participate.

In addition to learning things new, broadening our perspectives, finding new ideas in non-traditional places—I’ve found it a huge amount of fun and source of energy.

Sometimes, perhaps in a disciplined and structured way, it’s good to take your eyes of the goal. We might find new ways of achieving them.