This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
The office can sometimes turn into a vacuum. Original thinking dries up. Ideas turn stale. Same people. Same projects. Same desk. Same desktop. And yet, a simple stride out of the known and into the unknown can literally reboot how one thinks, sees, intuits, and solves problems.
In 1772, a physicist and chemist by the name of René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur took a nature stroll, but not to do work per se. Rather to watch bugs — a favorite pastime.
Upon discovering an abandoned wasp nest, and examining it in detail, Réaumur had an epiphany: The nest was just like paper, but it was made of chewed up wood and plant fibers. He wondered, if wasps could make paper out of wood pulp, perhaps humans could too.
This was groundbreaking because, at the time, paper was made from old cloths and rags and there was a critical shortage. Europe and America were in the middle of their own information age. So scarce did cloth and rag materials become, that advertising appeared asking people to “save their rags.”
Curiously, Réaumur never did anything with his insight. It was a century later, in 1841, that a 25-year-old inventor by the name of Friedrich Gottlob Keller jotted in his journal an idea about a machine that could extract fibers from trees for pulped wood papermaking. Where did Keller get such an ingenious idea? From an article he’d read years earlier about the works of Réaumur.
And so it goes, by simply stepping outside of one’s common sense into a kind of uncommon sense, Réaumur discovered and inspired new possibilities.
In the largest-every study of awarding-winning work, the O.C. Tanner Institute learned just how important it is to reboot one’s perceptions. According to the study, whenever bottom-line results were mentioned among reasons for awarding an employee for great work, 87 percent of the time managers said the employee had looked at his or her work in a new way.
The study also found that people who go looking for ways to make improvements are 17 times more likely to feel passion for their job than those who do not. The question is: Are you giving your people permission, even encouragement, to go looking out on the fringe, beyond the margins of routine, office, team, and the company’s front door?
How does one look beyond common sense to discover uncommon ideas?
1. Take it outside. Look for fresh ideas outside of the office. Turn to nature, sports, the arts, or sciences — anything that clears out the cobwebs of typical thinking.
2. Search for opposites. Consider failures, mistakes, and missteps, whether they are your own or others. Therein is rich intelligence for creating improvement.
3. Watch what people do. Observe the people and places your work impacts. When you see your work product or service being used, you’ll see strengths, weaknesses, and new possibilities.
4. Look back at trends. Notice patterns and see what’s delighted people in the past. A clear view of the past can give you insight into what’s possibly ahead.
5. Look to the future. Catch a glimpse of changes just around the corner. Consider the opportunities future conditions might bring. Picture a future you want to help create.
Encourage your team to venture outside the realm of tried and true thinking. They’ll see new ideas, hunch new solutions and consider new possibilities no one else could have thought of. The fact is brilliance is all around. And you don’t have to look very far to find it.
David Sturt is an executive vice president at O.C. Tanner and author of the New York Times best-seller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill). You can follow him on Twitter @david_sturt or visit www.greatwork.com.