Get outside your bubble – and stop the echo-chamber thinking

bubble pin prick echo chamber red quote echo chamber

“Lesson number 2: Don’t get high on your own supply” Elvira Hancock

Today’s business world is in need of “groundbreaking ideas”, innovation, creative breakthrough, and disruption. But so many companies can’t get out of their own way. Instead, like Tony Montana, they’re getting high on their own supply. They live firmly inside their own bubble, they believe all their own b.s.,  and they never even question themselves. And while it’s hard to break this habit, we’ve got to try.

Smash your echo-chamber
Whether we realize it or not, we all create our own bubbles. We seek ideas and outlets that align with our pre-existing opinions. We naturally tend towards friends with common backgrounds and personalities. And the modern web further reinforce our own echo-chamber – and is making it smaller and smaller. Sites and search engines recommend content that matches your behavior and history; data on our browsing leads to more content like we’ve already viewed; we follow those with similar POV’s; and our friends and loved ones curate the web for us – all of this discouraging diversity.

But there is tons of evidence that diversity of thought is hugely beneficial to problem solving, creativity and decision-making. So we need to step outside our bubbles to get external perspectives, new ideas and opposing viewpoints.

  • Go out into the real-world. Go on “field-trips” with your teams, go see your brand and consumer in action, in real life contexts. And, while using “big data” is hugely helpful – the “little data” of real life examples and anecdotes can set your imaginations, and creativity, on fire.
  • Study your competition, open-mindedly. It’s easy to take a flat, uni-dimensional approach while looking at your competition and their actions. It’s all stupid, baseless and misguided, right? Well, not so much. Open your mind to what they’re doing – they may be approaching the same situation you are, but with different, and perhaps fewer, in-going assumptions and biases.
  • Get outside your category for case-studies and examples. Oftentimes an example of a brand, team, person working in a completely different category and context can provide infinitely more inspiration than one that is facing the exact same issues you are. Take a cue from David Bowie, who “spreads the net so wide … (to) create something so new with what they find“.

Challenge your company’s thinking
While nearly all people and all companies say they want new thinking and new ideas, they rarely actually do. It’s uncomfortable and difficult to achieve. In fact, it’s been proven again and again that people generally tend to stick with the familiar and comfortable – from music to strategies to ideas. And companies are trained to follow the leader, avoid conflict, and go with the flow. To break out, you have to challenge yourself and your thinking.

  • Say “we might be wrong” regularly. Those simple words will cause you to re-look at your assumptions, reflect on your ideas, question your strategies. Critiquing your ideas can only make your thinking better. As Margaret Heffernan describes in her wonderful TED talk, “create conflict around theories” as a way to build them – seek to disprove as much as to support existing thinking.
  • Take the opportunity to challenge the status quo. Diplomatically ask questions that no one seems to want to ask or that make folks uncomfortable – an indicator of echo-chamber thinking. Ask “why?” a lot – and, even more importantly, “why not?” and “what if?
  • Leverage outsiders or fresh thinkers.  Generally, those who have not been “drinking the Kool-aid” for years and years can provide a real fresh perspective – if an organization is open to listening. Hire diversely, create “Red Teams” to help find holes in a core team’s thinking, etc.

Eat some broccoli
As I mentioned, the world of media can become a self-curated echo-chamber, in which you read and watch and share the ideas you already have. In a way, you choose to read the “candy” all the time, but not the vegetables that might be good for you but less obviously pleasurable. At least, that’s the way Siva Vaidhyanathan describes it. He says that we need to eat some content broccoli, too.  A little less cat videos and HuffPo. A bit more Scientific American and opposing viewpoints.

What do you think? Is there echo-chamber behavior going on at your company? How have you helped to challenge it?


  1. Well done Michael on another incisive and insightful piece – a great reminder to keep asking questions when a lot of people have settled into their safe status quo.

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