Life at the border is the most interesting.
All conflicts in the real world happen at the borders of countries. Once as a kid I had two feet and two hands in four different U.S. states at one time (UT, NM, CO, and AZ) and I felt more alive. Cross a border in Europe, as I have done many times the past two months, and you experience a whole new language, sense of style, and dinner time.
The border is most interesting because it’s where contrasts are illuminated. Contrast drives everything. Contrast is important for good decision making — you need to know what your alternatives are.
Physically traveling puts you at the borders of the world and literally provides cultural contrasts. But I wonder if we could extend this idea to thinking. We all need to have a “home” somewhere — that is, a few core strengths, an industry we understand, a customer segment that’s familiar — but increasingly leaving home and thinking at the border is necessary. Spend time in new industries. Take new kinds of risks. Most important, expose yourself to new kinds of people.
I spoke with an executive the other day who hired artists — painters, sculptors — to live in the office of a services company. The artists were asked to do what they did everyday: make art. It had no apparent relevance to the services company at all. But something interesting happened. At lunchtime the artists would sit and talk with the company’s employees. They’d hang their art in the offices of the company. They’d mingle and mix at company social events. In short, this company served as a patron to random artists because they bet the artists’ presence and way of thinking would have a positive, indirect impact. It did indeed. That company placed itself at the border of their industry and the world of modern art.
How can you get closer to the border in your world?
(Hat tip: Pierre Claus for the conversation sparking this post)