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  • Writer's pictureErika Brenner

The Power of Outsights (part two) - 5 lessons

Text blob expanding and contracting in the center of the screen, releasing bubbles, with a text inside that says: “5 lessons”.

As I said in the first part of this post, diversity of thought is a known fuel to problem-solving, creativity, and innovation - and I recently gave a talk on the topic for the Marketing Association in Oslo.

In this second part of the post, I want to share with you the 5 lessons I shared with the viewers of the event - 5 things that I learned from living as an outsider that I hope will help you embrace diversity within yourself so you can also unlock the creative potential of outsights on a personal and professional level.

So here we go:

lemons and limes being thrown into water, with a dark background, and in the middle of the photo it reads “1. Embrace Random”

The first thing is: you have to be willing to embrace randomness. Being open to trying new things, having new experiences.

"When life gives you lemons..", you know how that goes - and that's exactly what this is about.

I know as marketers we are trained to question things, to always get to the bottom of the “why’s” - but a lot of the things that happened in my life happened because instead of asking “why” I decided to ask “why not”. It might seem like a subtle change, but it makes a huge difference.

Me, moving to China was exactly that. I had a good job, was living a pretty comfortable life, but then the chance to go to China came up. And I asked myself “why not”. I couldn’t come up with a single reason to not try.

I was meant to stay for 6 months, I stayed for 8 years.

And it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life, I’m so grateful for it. I met the best people, lived the most amazing things, and learned so much - all because I embraced a random opportunity.

Moving to Norway was the same - why not?!

But don’t worry, it works for smaller, less life-changing things too, of course.

Like trying new food, for example. When I was in Beijing, I ate a scorpion. And when I was in Chengdu, I went for a traditional dinner with a friend and she offered me pig brain. Did I like the new food I tried? Not really, but I tried it. Why not?

This friend who took me to the traditional hotpot dinner in Chengdu, by the way, I met at the airport while charging my phone.

So embrace these random opportunities life throws at you. Explore new things, meet new people, expand your horizons, collect different perspectives.

Even if it ends up being a crappy experience, if it’s a mistake, you’ll have learned something from it, I am sure of it.

And this kind of thinking can also work for brands.

Take IKEA, for example. When they launched in China, they thought it would be just as it is in Scandinavian countries - a huge store, with inspirational environments, so people could design their homes efficiently.

However, Chinese consumers were using the store a bit differently than they expected: they were sleeping in the display beds, having dates in the cafeteria, and sitting in the fake living rooms to chat and catch up.

several pictures of Chinese consumers sleeping on the beds and couches of IKEA stores in China.

What did IKEA do? They embraced it. IKEA became like a home for consumers - a place they would go to hang out, not only buy furniture. The brand love only grew, and even if people didn’t need to buy furniture, they would still go to the store to buy tiny decoration items - I've seen someone buying a small plush toy just so they would have “something” from IKEA. An IKEA store in Nanjing even hosted a wedding for 3 lucky couples. IKEA became part of the consumer’s lives.

So embrace these random opportunities, they are key in helping us expand our bubbles, and they can take you, and your brands, to unexpected places.

And that takes me to my next point: to be able to fully embrace these new experiences, you’ll have to learn to handle a certain level of discomfort.

A photo from a camera pointing down, attached to the neck of a person wearing a cliff jumping suit, showing as the person jumps and flies off the cliff. The text in the slide reads “2. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable”

You have to trust the process. Accept that change is the only constant, and changing IS uncomfortable - but it’s also the only way we grow.

“Change is the only constant” - Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

Nowadays, social media and algorithms dictate that we only see content that matches what we already think, opinions that are similar to our own - it only inflates our bubble rather than burst it.

So we have to actively seek different perspectives.

Engage with people who disagree with you, talk to people who might live a different lifestyle, and try to understand their point of view. Be open, be vulnerable.

Sure, sometimes it’ll be awkward, challenging. But it’s only by pushing the edges of our comfort zone that it’ll expand, there is no way around it.

So practice that, whenever possible.

A close up shot of the head of a match as it is lit on fire and burning off. In the center of the slide reads “3. Dare to be wrong”

The 3rd point is an important one. It’s about fighting the fear of being wrong and not allowing it to stop us from taking action.

Maybe this sounds a bit poetic, but it really is about having the humility to accept our humanity, so we can embrace the mistakes we unavoidably will make and grow from them.

You know, it might be a bit surprising to you (as it was to me), but the culture shock I felt moving to Norway was bigger than the one I felt when I moved to China.

The thing is, when I moved to China I expected things to be different, it wasn’t a surprise - in fact, it was the whole reason I was there.

But when I moved to Norway, my silly self thought that just because it was a western country, I knew what to expect.

And, despite the obvious difference in climate, I even thought that it would be more similar to Brazil haha. I had some obvious misconceptions about Norway, biases, expectations… which led me to my culture shock - and it was nothing less than realizing I had the wrong expectations and that I had to adapt.

Once again, I had to unlearn the things I thought I knew.

And it has been incredibly rewarding to learn about Norway. The real Norway - taco Fridays and all!

“I know that I know nothing” - Socrates, Greek philosopher

Socrates said it best - the only thing any of us can be certain to know is that we don’t really know anything.

So don’t let your ego or your pride stop you from embracing your mistakes as opportunities to learn.

By daring to be wrong, you are giving yourself space to grow.

I’ve watched this TED Talk by social scientist Dolly Chugh who argued that in our moral quest of trying to be seen as a “good person”, we’re actually holding ourselves back from truly becoming a better person.

Why? It’s because we think it’s an either/or situation. Either you are a good person or you’re not.

So when someone challenges us, or when we slip up and get called out, the majority of us would go into this red-zone defensiveness - and that is preventing us from learning from our mistakes and becoming actually better people.

So, as Dolly Chugh said, don’t try to be a “good” person, just be a good-ish person - a real person. And real people make mistakes, and then we learn from them.

The way I see it, rather than being a know-it-all, we are all much better off trying to be a learn-it-all. Maybe that’s cheesy, but it’s true.

And don’t underestimate who can teach you something new - always be willing to listen and learn.

And that takes me to this next point: when no one has all the answers, don’t try to impose what you “know” on others.

A photo of a brick wall with a graffiti drawing of an old-school television with static noise on the screen. The text in the slide reads “4. Be an aggregrator, not a dictator”

Instead, be an aggregator - find the right cues and nuances on the different perspectives, make connections.

Build on each other’s ideas, leverage each other’s experiences and point-of-views.

I’ve always worked on multicultural teams. Different backgrounds, cultures, nationalities. And my favorite thing about that has always been the exchange of perspectives we have in diverse groups.

The discussions are always richer - and I always learn something new.

In China, in one of the agencies I worked for, we used to have a weekly meeting just to share “observations”. As we were a good mix between Chinese and foreigners - so “insiders” and “outsiders” - we would talk about the things we observed in the streets that week, what we saw in our buildings, in the supermarket, anything - real-life stuff!

We would discuss why they were interesting, think of ways we could use those observations to broaden other people’s horizons, and hopefully inspire the creative work around the agency. It was such a good exercise to do that every week.

We all became better observers, we all learned how to listen to other people’s points-of-view, and we all learned how to build onto each other’s experiences and ideas.

Another good example of aggregating and not imposing, from a brand point of view, was what Chivas Regal, the whisky brand, did in China.

While whisky is one of the most popular beverages in the Chinese market, do you know how it’s most often consumed? Mixed with green tea.

I know some of you might cringe at the idea, and Chivas could have taken the approach of wanting to “educate” consumers on the “proper” way of drinking it, but instead, they went along with it and built upon it.

Not only they encouraged the mix, but they also came up with different cocktails and went around the clubs of the big cities teaching the bartenders how to make them.

Today, there isn’t a single club or karaoke joint in China that doesn’t offer the mix and Chivas is one of the top alcoholic brands in the country.

Learning how to connect different perspectives and how to aggregate different points-of-view can truly lead you to ideas you most likely wouldn’t be able to come up with alone - so take advantage of that!

The last lesson is an important one.

The question this event proposed was “What is our role as marketers in an increasingly diverse Norway?”

And I do believe that, as marketers, we should all be upstanders and not bystanders, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Picture of an uprisen fist of a woman in an urban landscape and some trees in the background. Background is blurry, focusing on the fist. The text in this slide reads “Be an upstander, not a bystander”

Beyond what is morally right to do, on a personal level, our brands are part of the culture and we are responsible for creating narratives that contribute to the conversation.

So our role is to be active about it. Be intentional.

Start by growing diversity within you. Practice looking for outsights, embracing different perspectives, “outsider’s” voices.

And be mindful that diversity is not just about race and gender.

“Biases” are the stories we make up about people before we get to know them.

And that is why it is so important that we broaden our horizons.

Question your instincts. Question your assumptions.

And please, do help other people question theirs too.

Bring this awareness to your teams, to your companies - encourage conversations that might be difficult, and demand meaningful actions.

Perhaps then we can start shifting the conversation from the issue of diversity to the power of diversity.

I think it’s clear that we ALL gain from it. And therefore, we are all responsible for it.


To sum it up:

Remember that it’s not about being “curious” about other people, but about being empathetic - trying to step into somebody else’s shoes.

That it’s less about learning, and everything about un-learning.

And that it’s not about being right or wrong, but it’s about growing.


I know this was a long post - so thanks for reading it all the way through. I hope you found it useful! Feel free to share in the comments below any other learnings from your own experience, it would be great to grow this list :)


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