One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was to, when visiting a new city, ‘look up’. There is so much to be discovered above street level. Newcastle and its wonderful Georgian architecture. The classic patterned tiles of Lisbon. The vertigo-inducing verticality of New York. My friend told me that you can identify a true Outsider just by seeing who is looking up.
It is easy to do as a tourist. We rarely do it in the places we live and work.
I moved to Birmingham around five years ago. A city with a rich and varied history, and plenty of ways for the curious mind to dig beneath the surface; walking tours, excellent museums, a bustling community of enthusiasts keen to share the stories.
I wrote a little about the cinematic heritage of the city last year. (Spoiler alert – it did not convince the Channel 4 bosses to relocate here).
A number of my native Brummie friends have noted that they often take the city for granted. It speaks to the value of an Outsider viewpoint.
In some of the greatest works of fiction, the role of the Outsider is paramount, from J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls to Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.
It is a similar case in communications and marketing. There is great value to the Outsider and their inherent ability to assess a situation without being mired in the minutia, or the internal politics. They see it as it is. Not as it was, not as it could be, not as it ‘should have been’. As it is.
That is not to say they will have a brutal assessment of your current ways of working. I have audited a few clients recently and found cases where they had lost sight of the strengths they possessed. There was no need for an extensive revamp for the sake of a revamp. On the inside, we can be obsessed with ‘moving forward’ and a need for change.
Embracing and celebrating the Outsider can be of great value. There are formal ways of bringing people in to do that in a professional sense, but it need not be something that requires long-term resource. There are likely to be people with the Outsider mentality within your in-house team, just waiting to be asked. Just find the person who is ‘looking up’.