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June 8, 2015

The Company You Keep

Rachel Salaman

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Herminia IbarraProfessor Herminia Ibarra has coined a new word: outsight. She says it's the opposite of insight, which she defines as "the flash of knowledge that comes on inside."

Outsight, then, "is the external perspective you get from doing new and different things with new and different people. It helps you see your role differently, it helps you see yourself differently."

This is the basis of her new book, "Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader." In it, she offers advice in three main areas where outsight can be gained: your job, your network, and yourself.

In our Expert Interview podcast, Ibarra talks in depth about the second of these areas: your network. She believes that, by expanding and diversifying your professional connections, you can positively affect your job and yourself as well.

"A lot of times we have a network that's really quite limited, quite insular, quite the usual suspects: the people we always talk to and who always reinforce what we do and how we see ourselves," she says. "So one of the ways to break out of that is to grow a much more diverse, more external network that gives us outsight on ourselves, on our job, on what it is that we need to do."

She talks about the network "trap" that can stifle opportunities for outsight.

"Left to our own devices, we build networks that are narcissistic and lazy: narcissistic because we tend to connect and invest time and energy in relationships with people who are like us in significant ways – so same interests, same specialty, same backgrounds, same nationality, same gender – and lazy because, since we're all busy, we tend to hang out with and talk to people who are easy to hang out with and talk to, because we bump into them. They're on the same hallway, they're in the same office building, they're in the same club. What happens is you just reduce the diversity of your network dramatically that way unless…you say, 'I have to make this more diverse'."

Ibarra says we should aim to build networks that will work for us in the future, not just today.

"There's been a lot of research on this, and one of the findings is that our networks always kind of lag behind our formal job mobility," she explains. "So you're moving along and you're doing new things and you're expanding, but you're still talking to the same people and that limits you. You need to think, 'Okay, so these people have helped me get this far and I've probably helped them too, but who do I need in the future? Who is going to give me the counsel or perspective, all of the different things that I need to up my game?' And oftentimes, it's a different set of relationships."

So how do we go about building new relationships that will help us now and in the future? Ibarra offers some tips in this audio clip from our Expert Interview podcast.

  Listen to the full Expert Interview in the Mind Tools Club ¦ Install Flash Player.

According to Ibarra, building a more diverse network can deliver flashes of outsight, which in turn can help us redefine what we do and who we are. Her book, "Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader," provides a lot of sound practical advice to get you started.

How diverse is your network? What do you gain from mixing with different people? Join the discussion below!

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