This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.
I have to admit, it felt awesome investing in chickens.
Sometimes when words come out of your mouth, you can’t believe you just spoke them. But David helping Victoria buy chickens for her micro-poultry business in Kenya wouldn’t have been possible without a string of events that lead back to a single conversation that has changed the lives of millions.
In 2004, Jessica was a staff member at a local university and Matt was a computer programmer. Both had visions of becoming entrepreneurs. But they didn’t just want the money — they wanted a business that would make a real difference.
One night, Jessica attended a lecture given by Dr. Mohammed Yunus, founder of the now famous Grameen Bank, an institution in India that provides small loans to poor people without collateral. “A lightning bolt went off in my head and heart,” said Jessica. “Dr. Yunus talked about people in poverty with such respect and dignity. I wanted to do something similar.”
Jessica went home to Matt and they talked. After about a year’s worth of conversations, an idea evolved to become ‘the world’s first website with the mission to alleviate poverty by connecting people through lending.’
Ideologically, the premise was solid. Imagine connecting a nurse in Kansas City with a beekeeper in Ghana, a teacher in Raleigh with a spinach farmer in Cambodia, or the executive vice president of the O.C. Tanner Institute (David Sturt) with a poultry farmer in Kenya (Victoria). With a small loan of just $25, Jessica and Matt were opening the door for entrepreneurs all over the globe through Kiva. Victoria, a poultry farmer in Kenya, started her business with a microloan from Kiva.org
Before Kiva became the entity that would change micro lending, something had to be done that Jessica and Matt — and most people — found discomforting and nerve-wracking. They needed to talk to people they didn’t know, people way outside the safety of their inner circle of friends, and they needed to talk openly about the business model issues central to their new venture.
Jessica went to east Africa to interview rural entrepreneurs on behalf of a local nonprofit organization. Matt soon joined her. After about 150 conversations they were excited. However, an astute friend of Matt’s pointed out, “You can’t just loan money over the Internet.” He was right.
In a bold move, Matt picked up the phone and called the SEC. Think about that, who cold calls the SEC? But what did he have to lose?
Within five minutes of calling, Matt was talking to an experienced agent. After a series of conversations, the agent helped Matt and Jessica make a crucial decision: There would be no interest charged as part of the lending; no interest returned to the lenders. Without interest, the SEC was unlikely to consider the loans as regulated securities.
“Right away, he identified with the social mission and was incredibly helpful,” Matt said of his conversation with the SEC agent. And, with that critical conversation with a total stranger, Kiva.org was born.
At the writing of this post, Kiva and its 1,180,795 lenders have loaned almost $569,192,025 to 1,323,182 entrepreneurs in more than 75 countries. Reaching outside their inner circle worked for Matt, Jessica, David, Victoria and more than a million other entrepreneurs (plus a few chickens). But can it work for you? The research says, “Yes.”
A study conducted by Forbes Insights and the O.C. Tanner Institute found that reaching outside their inner circle is a common activity of people who innovate and create new value. Collaborative Innovation: The Power of Conversation to Drive Great Work, found that 72 percent of projects that win awards involve people talking to their outer circle. And it also found that people who talk to their outer circle are 3.4 times more likely to create bottom-line financial results.
What can having conversations with people in our “outer circle” do for your business?
1. Create more original ideas. The more fresh ideas you have to work with, the more those ideas interact with one another to reveal possibilities.
2. Understand your customer. The people you have conversations with today are often stand-ins for the future recipients of your work and ideas.
3. Generate naysaying. Not everyone is going to understand or like your ideas. That’s valuable feedback that you cannot ignore. Indifferent or cynical people will call out challenges and weak spots in your ideas that others won’t.
4. Gather specialized know-how. Every person you share your idea with will have his or her unique perspectives. Maybe one of them has done something similar to what you’re working on. Or maybe that person has a skillset that you don’t.
5. Confirm a path. When ideas are connecting, a sudden clarity of thought and direction appears where you know you’re on the right path.
6. Create a community. Conversations with your inner-circle and with your outer-circle can grow into a network of support to help make your idea a reality.
So don’t be chicken about sharing what you do and what you want to do. It’s likely that the people you don’t know best will help you make a difference people love.
David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times best-seller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at www.greatwork.com.