Julien Smith asked a question recently- when did you last have a breakthrough idea?  And he suspected they probably didn’t come from a blog, or the stuff that “everybody” reads.  That got my thinking- Where do I get my best ideas and insights?

I get my breakthrough ideas when I read a book outside my typical area of interest.  I get them when I attend conferences that are not in my usual niche.  I get them after talking to someone who I might initially presume I have nothing in common with, but find out they have lots of interests and experiences I can learn from.

One of my favorite examples has been reading business books- management, marketing- and applying those ideas to everything from teaching to parenting.  Likewise, some of the great educators and parenting books have the best advice on how to manage clients, spouses, colleagues, business partners, and yes, even teenagers.

The “big idea” here is that you get breakthroughs when you can take a principal or thought from one area and then tinker with it and learn to apply it generally.  For example, books like Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath talk about how to make your ideas memorable- that works in every form of communication.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a letter, a piece of ad copy, a flyer, a lecture, a poster- all of those ideas work when applied to any situation where you’re trying to make an impact with your stories and information, regardless of the context.  Books like those of Marcus Buckingham and Tom Rath encourage us to try to find our underlying strengths and talents- and those you can also apply anywhere, once you get a sense of what you’re really good at.

I see the best meetups and conferences- like Tweetups, Web 2.0 Expo and Web 2Open, Podcamps, Barcamps and the like- all succeed because they draw from different verticals.  It’s not all “tech people” or “business people” or “PR and marketing” types,  “government people” or “web heads” or “artists” or whatever label you might want to apply- it’s a bit of all of these folks in one space, teaching and sharing and learning from one another, and realizing that all the great ideas are probably not isolated to your industry.  This requires being open to the fact that an event might be different or weird or even not your cup of tea- but you’ll never know unless you step out of that shell and consider, even for a moment, that you might have something to learn from someone you might not ordinarily run across.

A great example of this was the recent Delaware Tweetup at Kildare’s in Newark, DE. DelTweet 3 was the third such event in Delaware, and it brought out people from local businesses- real estate brokers, business owners, bloggers, web designers, advertisers, designers, tech company folks, consultants, and tons of people in local politics, including Governor Markell, who started his official twitter account at the event.  The event showed everyone there the potential power of social media platforms to bring people together to share ideas and to really try to make a difference and make progress.  In a small state like Delaware, working together is particularly important.  Having the Governor see the diversity of interests and perspectives that can be drawn together by something like a tweetup has got to make bringing people together to tackle tougher issues like jobs and business issues seem a little easier and less daunting.

It’s easy to stay within your niche, within your echo chamber.  But the best ideas usually come from outside or from having a new perspective, often brought in from the periphery.   Sometimes the perspectives might seem naive or uninformed, but we can get people up to speed- it’s their fresh viewpoint and experience we need to hear, to look at our situation through a new lens, and see it with a fresh perspective.  We can also learn that people do care about what we do and the decisions we’re making- and that caring, passion and involvement is the energy we can really harness to make a difference, together.

My best advice to anyone who feels stuck, feeling like they are in a rut, or that the problems in their area never seem to change or improve, is to step out of that bubble a bit, and try a bit of fresh perspective.  Read a book yo might not ordinarily pick up- try something by Seth Godin, for example, or one of the gazillion books on my list on one of the other pages of this blog.   (I have an Amazon affiliate store with these books in it and the link is on that page- I get a few pennies if you buy a book from the link, for full disclosure purposes)

Step out of the usual, and you’ll be amazed how many great ideas you’ll start having once you get a fresh perspective.