We spend too much time seeking predictable answers. They are not necessarily bad. If I work with Peter, Paul and Mary on a regular basis, my mind has a good idea of what Peter, Paul or Mary would say to my difficult question. Not that this has little value. On the contrary, Peter is a good brain, Paul has a wealth of experience and Mary is a good critical thinker.
But, if I really need a breakthrough in my own thinking, view of the world, or my preconceived plans on how to address this big issue in front, I should try unpredictable answers. That rules out Peter, Paul and Mary. Also your close team, people you know well, friends.
Unpredictable answers are more likely to come from people you don’t know that well, perhaps you have some ties (‘weak ties’ it’s called in social sciences), perhaps you have been vaguely in touch. Or serious consultants who are prepared to tell you the truth, not to agree directly with what you think. (Come on, find them!)
You should make a list of your normal, good, reliable, safe, predictable connections and then rule out anybody on that list. Unless there is somebody in that list who, although you may know well, truly ‘thinks differently’.
Then make a list of more unlikely, unusual or possibly vague connections. This list may contain people from an opposite part of the company, from another company, most powerful even, from another industry sector. Tap into that intellectual capital.
The quest for innovation, small i or big I, starts from the unpredictability of things. Most of the time we surround ourselves with predictable ones. Just by injecting small doses of unpredictability (read: pick up the phone and call that guy you met a year ago at a kid’s school match, who is a head of Sales in A industry sector, whilst you work in B), those that may feel a bit weird (sure, you do the non-weird ones every day) will stimulate you to try again and again.
Then, it will become as normal as talking to your own (more predictable) team.