Re-Imagining Effective Work

Study Beyond Your Industry

What could you learn from an operations manager at Schipol Airport, or an analyst at HSBC, or the man who schedules the trains for Network Rail or the process guy at the Department for Education?

I bet their problems are not that different from yours, but they will have some very different solutions to them, solutions that might make you sit back and think.

James Lawther, Stranger Danger (March 2014)

One approach for seeing possible improvements for your work is to study beyond your industry. To explore outside the lines. To look at how other job roles are changing. To learn how other organisations are tackling change, progress and improvement and making this part of their new approach to work. To see what business and civic leaders are thinking through, planning towards, and taking account of in how they deal with the world.

Methods of becoming a student beyond your own work are:

  • Subscribe to a magazine or series of blogs written by people in a very different field. Selecting “the one right one” to study is less important than selecting something and starting.
  • Attend a conference in a different industry. What are the current challenges? How are these being addressed? Who is doing interesting things?
  • Read cross-industry and big picture publications like the Economist, Fortune and BusinessWeek. There’s a bit of everything in those pages, with lessons and ideas that can spark new ways of seeing for your work.
  • Set up lunch-and-learn meetings with people in your city from a different industry. Friends in a different industry. Colleagues of friends. Complete strangers. Even the so-called Captains of Industry have to eat every day; what could you learn from a discussion with one of them?
  • Take a sabbatical to another firm in your city, beyond something you have done for the last decade. Note that this is at the shock-and-awe end of the scale in terms of seeing a very different work reality.

Studying beyond your industry is another way of increasing uncertainty (which is a good thing), and thus helping to break the ingrained patterns of thinking which blind us to the possible.