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Not All Smart People Work for You: The Importance of Acting Upon New Ideas From Outsiders

Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, was famous for saying, “Not all smart people work for you.”

Most managers will acknowledge that connecting with other professionals outside the firm could be a very good idea. Seeking novel ideas that might improve the effectiveness of the organization's mission is part of the 'open innovation' movement. As the American economy scratches and claws its way out of the Covid-19 pandemic, innovation (and scale) has become the key factor for success. But interacting with outsiders with new ideas takes time that many department professionals insist they simply don't have.

The scarcity of time is so common that it's even hard to network internally. Visiting with another employee down the hall in a different department could be productive. Learning from other insiders could be a catalyst - a way to understand why things are the way they are. Yet few department heads set aside their 'to do' list long enough to absorb ideas from co-workers.


Despite these barriers, more and more companies insist that their workers step away from their familiar working environment and find a way to attend networking events that might help them understand what is really happening outside the office walls. Why? Younger employees advance the idea that 'everything is connected.' Female managers emphasize the value of diversity and 'holistic thinking.' New era leadership is being likened to 'gardening' that emphasizes growing, cultivating and connecting. All these changes in thinking can leave staffers scratching their heads - unable to digest cutting edge ideas.

So how can a company encourage employees to incorporate outside knowledge into their work at the firm while avoiding 'networking for networking's sake?' The key is to ensure that these employees not only devote time to networking externally, but also prioritize absorbing and applying what they learn—and diffusing this knowledge internally.


Many employees don't have enough time to reflect on and process what they learned and how it might apply to the firm. This is important in order to connect external knowledge with those who spend more of their time working in the company. Thus, managers may want to pair their external “power networkers” with their more internally focused colleagues to obtain the best of both worlds: leveraging the external sourcing of ideas and connecting them with skilled internal brokers who can perhaps better direct the application of novel ideas.

Caveat: one cannot attribute sweeping benefits to scouting for innovative ideas outside the office without considering the opportunity costs. Time networking outside the firm implies less time learning about the firm’s innovation needs.

One way to network time efficiently and with an eye on innovative ideas is to join a business ecosystem or online community. An ecosystem pulls members together for productive sharing; organizers choreographs collaboration, partnership possibilities and group training and mixing. It is their responsibility to introduce new ideas to members. A good example of a new ecosystem is the NEWbraska Network. Although they are just starting with a few members, they are intent on making the state of Nebraska and the companies within the state more innovative. Their approach is time-efficient so managers can import and act upon well researched ideas without compromising their time commitment to their employers.

Learn more: 402-208-5519.

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