2009 was not a great year for many. Around the world, economies are in trouble and there are pockets of war and poverty that never seem to get better.
That said, 2009 has turned out to be pretty great to me professionally and to my family. I feel fortunate and hopeful. 2010 is queued up to be a better year and I hope that will mean great things for you. Or, at the very least, different.
But, to truly enjoy the opportunity that a new year brings, we should change the way we should do enter it with a fresh perspective. Here are some ways to do that.
I grew up in an environment where questioning what was true and real (vs. superstition, religion, custom) was encouraged and it’s a big part of my life. In my work life, I’ve often found an answer I like and never asked the question again. Understanding the limits of certain technologies is important, but so is reexamining what is possible. What couldn’t be done in 1999 is commonplace in 2009. To be innovators, we have to question our assumptions and our limits constantly.
And when you ask questions, make sure you listen to the answers. Pay attention to the people who try to shut you down quickly without really considering possibilities. You’ll have to work on these people. But, if you’re lucky enough to have people around you who delight in debate and inquiry, you have an environment ripe for innovation and great work. Work with what you have, but make sure you’re bringing and open mind.
Adjusting your media filters can be a great way to change your perspective. One of the things I plan to do differently is how I consume news. For instance, I’m typically an MSNBC viewer. I find it is where I get the news that is most relevant to people like me. Lately, I’ve been watching CNBC in the morning instead. I don’t consider it to be made for me, but it’s so interesting to see the kind of news that people in the finance industry and big business get. It’s almost like a cultural exchange program. The agency I work for has many clients in the financial industry so it has the added benefit of teaching me more about their customers and business challenges. So, shake it up a little.
I started this blog in 2009 and it reaffirmed my belief that the process of writing is important to thinking. Having to synthesize ideas and communicate them in a way others can understand forces you to think harder and find the core of the idea. I often start writing a sentence expecting to say one thing and find I need to pause, think a while longer, and then edit my original idea. Writing for an audience is a great way to not only capture your best ideas, but to have others challenge them. A post I wrote this year about healthcare turned into an interesting debate on facebook and my understanding of the issue is different as a result.
If you don’t have a blog and aren’t in the market to start one, there are other ways. You can start an idea log or journal. You can write letters to the editors of magazines or newspapers. You can comment on the blogs of others (ahem!). And, if you’re employer has a blog or newsletter, maybe you can contribute to it.
Yesterday, someone told me I shouldn’t hold back on being silly. If he knew me better, he probably wouldn’t have said that. I am often very silly. But playing around with new ideas isn’t silly, it’s actually a great way to brainstorm. You’re silliest idea may not be a winner, but who knows where it might lead?
And don’t just play with ideas. Play with things. Have you been to a toy store lately? How about a big electronics store or sporting goods store? There are so many fun, innovative things to try. Play with them and then think about what goes into designing and marketing them. When I do, the world seems like a happier place where good ideas can lead to good things.
You need to move to another country. I know that’s probably not an option for most people, but if you get the opportunity, go! Living in a foreign country as a child and then again as working adult has been one of the great privileges of my life. The differences in culture can be astonishing, but the similarities in the human spirit are uplifting. The world would be a better, more peaceful place if we could imagine it from the perspective of others .
So, if you aren’t going to pick up and move, what can you do? You can visit. Being a tourist in a foreign country is the same as living there, but is still a great experience. But, if traveling isn’t something you’re able to do, you can start by just being aware of what’s happening in other countries.
As an American, I know it’s easy to think about our country as the center of the news universe. Do you think people in other countries feel that way about America? Probably not. Things are happening all over the world and we only seem to notice when they’re bad. Let’s be open to the idea that we’re all connected and understanding how is knowledge worth having.