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Remember Humility When Approaching Problems with Fresh Eyes

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When people talk about bringing ‘fresh eyes’ to a problem, they are referring to an outsider’s ability to see that problem through different lenses than those of insiders. For many reasons, we sing the virtues of ‘fresh eyes’:

  • Distance provides broader perspective: most of us have experienced this in some form. You’ve probably been asked to review something for a colleague and quickly see an error or omission they just could not see anymore. It’s the old adage of not being able to see the forest for the trees. You simply come at issues with a different set of eyes and this fresh angle can spot incongruities between what your team wants to achieve and the best way to get there.

  • Lower provocation risk: as someone outside the immediate culture and hierarchy, there’s more freedom to state your thoughts even at the risk of provoking the wrong people. I’m not talking about Ricky Gervais type provocation here. This is about stating what you see, even when it’s unpopular or hard to hear. The outsider’s view is assumed to be offered in the spirit of helping the organization vs being a jerk or provoking for provoking’s sake.

  • Different language: an outsider can trigger the internal team to think in new and different ways just by changing the language used in the room (even though someone in the organization has said this same thing before to no avail). Mark Twain joked that ‘An expert is an ordinary fellow from another town.” We all get stuck in habitual ways of thinking and communicating. An outsider is like a new ingredient in the mix that changes the chemistry.

There are also some ways that fresh eyes can go askew.

  • Throwing the baby out with the bathwater: there can be an instinct to discount efforts that have gone before you. Whether this is accurate or not, there’s value in checking your thinking before you pitch the old to make way for the new. Are your fresh eyes truly picking up on opportunities to start anew OR do you need more time to understand the situation, more patience to get to the bottom of things. Does an old idea have potential to shine with some effort and nurturing? You may be able to make a big impact on the organization by building on an idea that proceeded you.

  • Force-Feeding your ideas: when you are new to an organization and facing challenges with fresh eyes, there can be a tendency to move big and fast. You want to get on with it and right the ship as quickly as possible. But this approach can backfire. Transition is a process. People need help moving through it. You may have heard of Kotter's 8-step Change Model. It’s worth reading more about the 8-steps but my point is that there are 8 steps, not one. Sustainable change will not happen overnight.

On balance, fresh eyes are an amazing asset AND a finite one. Take advantage of them: use your fresh perspective to objectively assess the health of your own or your partner’s organization, generate excitement about opportunities and rally people around a shared strategy.

How have you used fresh eyes to help your own or a partner’s organization? We’d love to hear your stories.

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