Applying ideas and perspectives from divergent industries to solve similar problems in order to gain a differentiated advantage over the competition.


We’ve all heard of the first movers advantage where organizations that are first to enter new markets gain an advantage over their competitors. But as I increasingly work with organizations, I’ve begun to witness a new point of advantage…the outsiders advantage.

Let me explain.

As organizations seek to innovate, they often turn to seasoned industry thoughts leaders and experts to help them explore and uncover new market opportunities. Does this strategy work? In many circumstances it certainly does. However, it is often limited to incremental improvements rather than ground-breaking transformations.

Why is this the case?

Most expert thought leaders come with years of baggage. Unfortunately, they begin their innovative explorations with pre-existing constraints that set boundaries limiting their innovative potential. In my experience, most of these conversations encompass a lot of “We can’t because…” or “That won’t work, because…” or “No, but…” As a result, most of these organizations taking the insider thought leader approach quickly become irrelevant and slow to compete, putting their business at risk.

The outsiders advantage brings a sense of naivety to the conversation that begins its exploration with a blank slate, without the constraints and boundaries assumed by most industry experts. The conversation tends to include vernacular like, “Why can’t we…” or “What if…” or “Yes, if we…” With this free-from-constraints mentality, we can start to re-imagine how things should be in an ideal state. It allows us to start from scratch reimagining business-as-usual by utilizing a fresh perspective to our thinking.

Allow me to share some examples….

Most would agree that Walmart is in the retail, convenience shopping space….however, increasingly, they have been inching their way into becoming a recognized leader in health delivery services leveraging their supply chain know-how and geographical reach. As an outsider to healthcare, they are able to create new disruptions by imaging scenarios without the limiting constraints most healthcare organizations are accustomed to.

Tesla is another great example. When you look under the hood (literally and metaphorically), they are more than a car company. They are, in fact, a battery company. And as such, they can enter new markets, such as the home, using a fresh perspective without any pre-existing notions of what can or cannot be done.

Lastly, Under Armour is more than a sports apparel company. As they begin to understand the core health-related needs of their audience to combat obesity, they have begun to realize they are indeed in the health, fitness, and nutrition business as well. With a surge of recent health related acquisitions, Under Armour has been able to position themselves as a leader in health by exploring new ways to engage their customer base to help improve their overall state of wellness…something the biopharma industry has had a difficult time achieving from the inside.

And the list of examples goes on and on…

So here’s my Unusual Tip: As leaders of innovation, we need to unlearn the traditional playbook taught in text books and in graduate schools, and start seeking perspectives beyond our silos. We need to understand perspectives beyond our miniature world of groupthink and explore ideas that come from an outsiders viewpoint to reimagine business-as-usual. This unusual perspective is what I call The Outsiders Advantage.

Always #ThinkUnusual,

Dr. Gautam Gulati is the Founder & CEO of Unusual, Inc. — a storytelling media expedition celebrating human ingenuity, diversity, and imagination. He is hosting an inaugural event series called Unusual Intersections, designed to explore innovative problem solving across diverse industries.

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