Stuck in an ‘Echo Chamber’

Diverse Group Of Colleagues Having Conversation In Office

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

~H.L. Mencken

The Danger of Agreeable People

I like spending time with people who share my perspectives on life, success, and various other key topics… And I bet you do too!

There is nothing wrong with listening to and learning from people with whom you are philosophically aligned. There is a problem, however, if those are the only people’s views you ever hear because when everyone is saying the same thing, you don’t even question the underlying assumptions. Not only do you miss opportunities to stay ahead of the wave, you also miss important insights into the strengths, weaknesses and sales opportunities in front of you.

Please note: I’m not talking about the type of people who simply stir up controversy for the sake of argument, but those who have a different perspective and view.

Influence AND Independence

It’s part of human nature to spend most of our time listening to the same people (usually ones we agree with, sometimes people who make us angry).

BUT… It’s also dangerous because when we listen to someone we give them influence over us. As the proverb says, “If all you have is a hammer, then every problem is a nail.” It’s not a particularly effective strategy for a carpenter, it’s a disaster for a business owner.

We all have our preferred mentors, experts we follow, strategies we adhere to… And that’s essential. However, it’s also important for each of us to make sure we protect ourselves against the dangers inherent in our own selected echo chamber by exposing ourselves to other opinions and perspectives so that we can see past our unspoken assumptions.

The difference may not be reflected in our behaviour or strategy. It is definitely reflected in our confidence and results.

How is This Possible?

Strategically, it’s important to have clarity and perseverance.

That’s why it’s important to have a guiding influencer (or pool of influencers) who share your strategy. If you don’t you’ll end up zig-zagging all over the place or (even worse) ending up in the classic ‘two-steps forward, one-step back’ situation because you’ll lack any real compass.

Tactically and philosophically you need to be listening to people from outside your echo chamber. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with them or not, listening to their position with an open mind will shine a spotlight on your prejudices and clarify your response… You may even learn something new that will set you on a unique path.

When I realise that everyone in most of the groups I’m in is talking approvingly (or even reverently) about the same people, ideas, and books I start to feel uncomfortable because the natural end-result is another set of identical approaches. Then, I know it’s time to pay attention to ‘those idiots on the other side’… That person or group who has a substantial following that my people think is unbelievably stupid.

There is always someone like that… Pick any context: politics, climate change, covid-19 response, crime and punishment – or any other topic because most people like to operate in a binary world for simplicity’s sake. The reality is that ‘the other side’ also has a philosophical and rational base (with which you disagree) and some potential solutions (which you might be able to use).

The very worst outcome is that you end up with more reasons to confidently promote your own solution.

Where Do New Ideas Come From?

New ideas rarely materialise from thin air.

New ideas never come when you copy your competitors or models.

New ideas DO come when you look outside your industry and see how other people solve similar problems.

For example:

  • McDonald’s drive through windows was borrowed from US banks;
  • Agile project management in IT was borrowed from Toyota;
  • Lean manufacturing principles in almost every industry came from Toyota and Honda;
  • Ad Words and PPC advertising came from direct response mail-order;
  • Online shopping malls came from mail order catalogues;
  • Time Share Seminars came from the Insurance industry…

All of these borrowings created new opportunities outside the industry that conceived them and multiplied profits and sales. None of them happened when people just looked around their own echo chamber.

But I Don’t Like Arguing...

You don’t need to argue with anyone. All you need to do is to set aside your prejudices and preferences and listen. The more effectively you’ll do this the more you’ll be open to new ideas either for delivering your existing product or selling it.

I’ve lost count of the number of ideas and selling points this approach has brought my way over the years, but one of my clients applied a technique that she learned from her hairdresser to her accounting practice and increased the average annual client value by over 23%.

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