Take Off The Blinders!

The monument pictured here marks a spot where Thomas Edison camped in 1878.  While camping, Edison threw a broken bamboo fishing pole on a fire and noticed that the frayed pieces glowed and resisted burning.  He later tested a fiber derived from bamboo as a filament for the incandescent light bulb and came up with a bulb that would burn for over 1200 hours.  (An earlier version burned for only 40 hours.)  Someone else used a bamboo filament in 1854, but legend has it that it’s the camping experience that prompted Edison to use bamboo.

You may be thinking, so what?  Edison’s story (whether it’s pure truth or a nice legend) illustrates something that is critical to your professional success.

Looking outside a single box brings benefits — whether that’s knowledge from one field to another, an “out of the box” idea that leads to innovation, or drawing support (literal or metaphorical) from one area to another. Getting a jolt of “new” can stem from just about anywhere, if we create the opportunity for it.

And yet, when we specialize in a particular area, we tend to limit our attention to that area. One of my clients recently confessed that she reads plenty of information that’s directly connected to her photography business, but she rarely reads anything else — not even for pleasure.

When I was practicing patent litigation, I read in two primary areas:  patent law and litigation.  When I began to read business articles and magazines, however, I started to pick up tips on topics ranging from marketing to client service.  Occasionally, I’d even see a discussion that would in some way bear on one of my cases or a client’s business.  Even good information can leave us with stale input when it’s more of the same.

Here’s your challenge for the week:  pick up a magazine that you’ve never read before. Try Inc., Fast Company, Kiplinger, Forbes, or Entrepreneur. If you read those, consider a political magazine or even The New Yorker — just something that’s well outside your norm.

Much of what you read will be interesting but inapplicable to your business.  Look for the “zingers” that you can transfer into your own field or that spark a new idea.

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