For Jacob and many of the other people whose stories form the basis for this book, deep-seated ways of thinking keep us from making — or sticking to — the behavioural adjustments necessary for leadership. How we think — what we notice, believe to be the truth, prioritise, and value — directly affects what we do. In fact, inside-out thinking can actually impede change.
Our mind-sets are very difficult to change because changing requires experience in what we are least apt to do. Without the benefit of an outside-in approach to change, our self-conceptions and therefore our habitual patterns of thought and action are rigidly fenced in by the past. No one pigeonholes us better than we ourselves do. The paradox of change is that the only way to alter the way we think is by doing the very things our habitual thinking keeps us from doing.
This outsight principle is the core idea of this book. The principle holds that the only way to think like a leader is to first act: to plunge yourself into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done. Those freshly challenging experiences and their outcomes will transform the habitual actions and thoughts that currently define your limits. In times of transition and uncertainty, thinking and introspection should follow action and experimentation — not vice versa. New experiences not only change how you think —your perspective on what is important and worth doing — but also change who you become. They help you let go of old sources of self-esteem, old goals, and old habits, not just because the old ways no longer fit the situation at hand but because you have discovered new purposes and more relevant and valuable things to do.
Outsight, much more than reflection, lets you reshape your image of what you can do and what is worth doing. Who you are as a leader is not the starting point on your development journey, but rather the outcome of learning about yourself. This knowledge can only come about when you do new things and work with new and different people. You don’t unearth your true self; it emerges from what you do.
But we get stuck when we try to approach change the other way around, from the inside out. Contrary to popular opinion, too much introspection anchors us in the past and amplifies our blinders, shielding us from discovering our leadership potential and leaving us unprepared for fundamental shifts in the situations around us (table 1.1). This is akin to looking for the lost watch under the proverbial streetlamp when the answers to new problems demand greater outsight — the fresh, external perspective we get when we do different things. The great social psychologist Karl Weick put it very succinctly: “How can I know who I am, until I see what I do?”