Search Beyond the Electric Fence

A neighbor has a standard poodle who is permitted to bound anywhere on their property, but must remain inside the borders of an invisible electric fence. Given that the frisky fellow will get a shocking lesson should he overstep his boundaries, he has been conditioned to hold back.

Each time this dog slams on his brakes at the property line I wonder whether my neighbor has the electric fence set in the “off” position, or if it is powered up to shock.

Where Are Your Invisible Fences?
It is useful to speculate about the power of our own instincts and self-imposed limits. For instance, as we chart our career paths, how often do we hold back as though there is an invisible line that we dare not cross? Or, when conducting job interviews, do long-expired rules and out-of-date experiences prevent us from considering qualified candidates who may test our boundaries?

The hard part about managing instincts is figuring out the difference between prudent guiding principles and habits of thinking that hold us back. Advice from colleagues may be well-intended, historical perspectives are meant to protect us and familiar group-think feels comfortable. Each of these are designed to stop us at the line of pre-defined limits. Perhaps we will avoid a shock, but these forms of self-imposed limits can easily short-circuit opportunities for inspired, innovative thinking.

Traveling New Terrain
While inactive minds halt at the limits of the unknown, active minds explore unfamiliar territory in search of alternative views, speculations and research. Seekers are willing to actively test their assumptions; and contrarian thinkers challenge us to stimulate our curiosity about what might be dated information within our mindsets.

Think about those individuals you consider to be savvy executives. They are often just returning from giving a speech, writing a provocative article, attending a class, traveling beyond their assigned territories. They are never “too busy” for exposure to original experiences and information. They are disciplined in actively mining insights about their futures.

Searching for the Right Job Candidate
When hiring new talent, pay close attention to the habits candidates follow to remain current in their professions, technologies, markets and global influences. Do they do just enough to get by, or are they explorers? Do their answers sound familiar and trite, or are they fresh and contemplative? Are their rationales conventional and safe, or do they set you back just a bit? Do they surprise you with their observations about your organization’s current circumstances and potential prospects? Do they stop at the curb, or are they enthusiastic about leaping beyond?

Taking Risks
The only punishment that comes to the person who actively attends to new thinking is wielded by the chorus of conventional thinkers who sound warnings about the need to stick within familiar boundaries. Ironically, the switch for their power to punish is always in the “off” position!