Growing up my parents were strong advocates for seeking second opinions. If I had a medical issue and we were given a prognosis they would go visit another doctor just to see if they would say the same thing. If someone suggested that I learn to play the violin to develop my ear my parents would verify that suggestion with someone else.
Whilst I didn’t realise it at the time this was laying the foundation for my penchant for seeking external insights. There are lots of benefits of this mindset, namely –
- Expanding your thinking
- Seeing things from a different perspective (in the corporate world outside in is where an organisation puts themselves in their customer’s shoes)
Whilst I experienced lots of these benefits I also found that after a while I began to stagnate. I tended to fall in love with seeking external insights which would lead me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole and often one of 2 things would happen –
- I would become overwhelmed by so much information, or
- I would go down multiple rabbit holes such that I would forget the original question!
Let me bring this to life via an example –
I am passionate about helping people find their passion (no pun intended). I discovered that this was my passion a few years ago and have found that a lot of people are trying to find what it might be for them but struggle because they don’t have a process. Through the experiences I have gained from coaching and management consulting I have developed a process to help people. I was keen then on establishing myself as an expert in this field so people would go “Indar Gill, he’s the guy to help you find your passion”.
The question was how do I establish myself as an expert? I managed to narrow this down to 2 options – a) doing a PhD with a specific thesis focused on finding your passion, or b) combining my experiences with a research activity and sharing my insights.
Both options seemed pretty plausible and had their own pros and cons. So at this stage I sought external insights to figure out what to do. I researched what other people who were looking at becoming experts did. I looked at how much of an investment (time + money) a PhD would take. I spoke to people who had taken a similar path to get their perspectives.
I found that I got infatuated with the research piece and was in love with all the articles and TED talks of how people became experts. I really enjoyed reading and hearing their stories of how they went from complete unknowns to global phenomenons which truly inspired me. So much so that I kept reading these articles and watching the videos. I went down a rabbit hole and kept digging.
The other thing that struck me was we live in an age where we are fortunate to have so much information at our fingertips. I was able to gather equal amounts of information to build up a case for either pursuing a PhD or building on my experiences and sharing my insights. So much so that one day I would feel like pursuing a PhD and then the other day I would switch my intent. I was suffering from information overload.
After a while I found myself either chasing a rabbit hole of research or not making a decision and moving ahead with establishing myself as an expert. As you can imagine this led to a fair bit of frustration.
I then asked myself how can you harness the benefits of seeking external insights to spark action?
I think firstly you need to be really clear with what you are trying to achieve. So to keep running with my example – I was keen on becoming an expert as quickly as possibl. I really didn’t have the luxury of spending years to be known as the guy on helping people find their passion. This made my decision of PhD (upwards of 5 years) vs sharing insights (instant) pretty straightforward.
Secondly you need to be clear if you are seeking external information to ratify a hypothesis that you have, OR, if you are purely seeking insights. Quite often we know the answer we are after and are looking for a credible external source to agree with us (sound familiar?). On other occasions we don’t have an answer, instead we have a question and are keen on seeking inputs to inform a decision. Based on my earlier example I had 2 options. If I had a preference towards one (e.g. sharing insights from experience) then I would be looking for external perspectives to validate this. Alternatively if all I wanted was to be known as an expert relatively quickly, regardless of the approach, then I would be open to all external perspectives.
Lastly a structured approach of contextualising and synthesising the information you receive will help you get the most out of your efforts. Often I find that when you seek external information you gravitate towards one area and keep probing and probing (going down the rabbit hole). Whilst there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, the risk is you might not consider all of the info you receive. Having an approach (or even a simple reminder) to review all the information you have received AND putting it into your own individual context can help with getting the most from seeking external insights.
So in summary there are lots of benefits from seeking external insights. The key is to ensuring that you don’t get overwhelmed or go down rabbit holes and end up not taking action. Some of the strategies you can use include being clear on what you want to achieve, being aware of your drivers for seeking external insights and having a structured approach to contextualise and synthesis the information.
Indar Gill helps people find and pursue their passion. He is running a program in Melbourne to help people find what it might be for them. You can find out more about his research insights and service offering here.