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Christopher Penn discusses an interesting notion–the idea that people don’t actually know what their ideal world looks like.

When we try to solve a problem, or consult with others to help them solve their problems, often time we are told to start by answering this question: In a perfect world, what would this process look like?  This product?  Etc.

It’s a great starting point–in order to get away from the (assumed) inefficient state of today we need to know what a better state looks like.  Even if we can’t get there the answer helps frame the analysis and set goals to work towards.  But there is a problem with this approach; it assumes people already know what their ‘perfect world’ looks like.

Chris explains why this is dangerous:

One of my favorite TED talks by Malcolm Gladwell is a brief lecture on the evolution of chunky spaghetti sauce.

Get it? Chunky spaghetti sauce didn’t exist before Howard Moskowitz’s innovation not for lack of desire, but because customers had no vocabulary to even describe the desire deep inside their soul. Their worldview didn’t even have chunky spaghetti sauce in it, so there was no way for them to ask for it.

This is so important, and not just from a product marketing perspective. At Stephen K. Hayes’ Evocation event, one of the exercises we did was to envision and document our ideal day in our ideal life, assuming we had a magic wand to make true anything we wanted (with logical exceptions, of course, like not allowing someone to simply explode the planet). What was interesting to me as we shared our visions of a snapshot of ideal life was that for some of the participants, their lack of knowledge (through no fault of their own) created worldviews of an ideal life that were still limited – not for lack of desire for an ideal life, but because some of the things that would make their life truly ideal don’t even exist in their perspective of the world, so they had no idea that their vision could have been even more ideal.

Tunnel Vision: Avoid at all costs

Tunnel Vision: To be avoided at all costs

This is an important observation. So often, we think we fully understand the problem before us or that we are masters of our domain. It isn’t until we meet someone with a drastically different perspective, or view a presentation, or read a story that shocks us out of our narrow worldview that we find or conceptualize different desirable states. The key is to expose ourselves to diverse and contrarian thoughts and ideas. A great vehicle for that is social media. As Chris explains:

Being an active participant in social media allows me to communicate with people far outside my areas of expertise and far senior to me in their own life journeys. Being able to see how Jeff Pulver runs a conference gave me a whole new perspective on running PodCamp. Meeting and talking to incredibly successful business folks gives me better ideas on how to make the Student Loan Network better at what we do. Chatting with multi-book best selling author David Meerman Scott gives me insights into how publishing works. Randomly experimenting with things like podcasting lets me interview experts that might otherwise have little interest in talking to me.

I used to be a social media skeptic. Needless to say I have made a 180. The theory that broadening your perspective by interacting with people outside of your immediate circle and that bring unique experiences and knowledge-sets to the party is critical to innovation and success has, to me, been proven. Social media and firms that specialize in facilitating these types of conversations (full disclosure: I work for one) are powerful platforms for disrupting our stable states. When it comes to thinking, we need more disruption, not less.

Photo via Sandra Winiasz