I don’t often start essays about leadership with insights from French novelists, but in this case it seems appropriate. “The real act of discovery,” Marcel Proust wrote, “consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” Today the most successful companies don’t just outcompete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world of copycat thinking. Which means, almost by definition, that the best leaders see things that other leaders don’t see.
That’s not as easy as it sounds, especially for leaders who have spent years at the same company, or in the same industry, or as part of the same discipline. Without ever intending it, experienced leaders often allow what they know to limit what they can imagine going forward; their knowledge can actually get in the way of innovation. Which is why, to summon the spirit of Proust, it’s so important for leaders to see their company and industry with fresh eyes — which means looking at their work in new ways. Read more