If you saw your neighbor driving home in a shiny new car, how would it make you feel? For most people, the sight might cause a pang of jealousy. After all, the entire human conception of success is based on having better stuff than others. This habit is called chasing and it pushes us to pursue things we don’t actually need.
For instance, researchers at Vanderbilt University found that people literally tend to perceive their neighbor’s lawn as greener than their own. It may be a cliché, but, in the popular imagination, a healthy green lawn means success and prosperity. The desire for such status symbols is in fact so powerful that people work tirelessly to have the best lawn in the neighborhood. However, the results are often for naught: Meticulously manicuring your lawn necessarily means diverting resources from what makes you truly happy!
Well, on the other end of the spectrum from chasing is what’s called the stretcher mindset. In a nutshell, it refers to focusing on what you want to accomplish with the resources at your disposal.
In order to have a stretcher mindset, the first step is to feel assured that you’re in control. For example, say you work in a clothing store. Retail can be soul crushing, but by simply imagining yourself as the owner of the store you can boost your confidence in an instant.
Just thinking that you’re in charge of the circumstances will help you seize the reins and tap into your creativity. Beyond that, staying mindful of the situation at hand and the resources at your disposal will compel you to be creative with what you’ve got. In other words, you’ll have to recognize your limits and, once you know what you can and can’t do, you’ll be able to creatively pursue the options before you. That’s why studies have found that teams with a deadline or budget produce better results than those with more open-ended parameters.
When making an important decision, whether it’s choosing a new IT system at the office or a medical treatment for an illness in the family, people tend to place their trust in experts.
However, experts aren’t always the most reliable people. In fact, traditional experts often don’t have the best perspective. For instance, in 20 years of analyzing political issues, the psychologist Phil Tetlock found that experts aren’t any better at predicting future events than your average person, regardless of their professional experience. Whether people were liberal or conservative, optimistic or pessimistic, the results were the same. In most cases, the experts and non-experts offered comparable prognoses.
In fact, professional experience can actually be a hindrance. As people gain experience, they also become stuck in their knowledge, unable to move past conventional approaches.
As a result, outsiders tend to overshadow experts. Outsiders are newcomers to a field, people who lack deep experience. Naturally, you can’t be a newcomer at all times, but you can think like an outsider. It’s as easy as following four steps:
First, explore the world and experience new things that help you see them from a different angle. For example, if you’re a political expert, you might go to a musical, watch a cartoon or do something that’s entirely unrelated to the political world.
But you also need to stay in touch with what you already know, which is the second step. Of course, you can’t know everything about your field, so work to share your ideas with others, seeking feedback and learning as you go.
From there you can move on to the third step: looking for solutions outside of your own domain. The design company IDEO offers a good example. They have an open office in which employees hear about the problems and innovations of other departments, thereby inspiring them to find solutions to their own problems.
And finally, whatever ideas and innovations you do develop, it’s key to constantly test your assumptions, expecting that most of them will fail.
Check out my related post: Should you implement a stretch goal?