15 Ways to Get a Fresh Perspective On an Old Topic

How do you give yourself a fresh pair of eyes when you’ve seen it all before?

I pondered this after the announcement that David Eastwood–someone deeply involved in HE–had been made Chair of Russell Group.

In a time of difficulty for the sector, it is obvious that a top role needs someone with a lot of experience and influence in order to be heard and to make a further mark.

To show the extent to which Eastwood knows the sector, here are just some of his current roles:

  • Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham;
  • on the advisory board of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI);
  • a member of the QAA board;
  • Chair of the UCAS Board.

What, you want more? Fine. Eastwood’s past experience includes having been head of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), chief executive of the Arts & Humanities Research Board, and he was on the panel of the Browne review of HE.

Let’s just say he knows a bit about HE…

Having loads of experience sounds great, but it’s just as important to look at each situation from a fresh perspective. Without new ideas, you face getting set in your ways.

You can’t forget what you know and become a novice again, so you need another way to look at things differently.

"I've Seen It All Before..." (photo by ZeroOne)

“I’ve Seen It All Before…” (photo by ZeroOne)

Below, I’ve got fifteen tips for getting new views. They aren’t designed to change your opinion (although they might!). These tips will help you to see further, to understand why not everyone sees things from your point of view, and to give you greater strength in your own views.

  1. Read stuff that you don’t agree with – It may not change your own opinion, but it will help you see how other people view the situation.
  2. Think about the issues you don’t know so well – Learning never ends; it just gets more specific. Look beyond what you already know and keep discovering even more.
  3. Ask for other opinions/options/ideas and work with those you hadn’t considered or acted upon before – I often say that you should listen to advice, and then choose whether or not to make use of it.  Over on Twitter, @Mandlovesgeeks recognises how tough this can be. Mand suggests that you should “ask for feedback from someone else – & try to listen to it, even when it’s painful”.
  4. Play ‘what if…?’ and see how your view changes – When faced with alternatives, it’s easy to dismiss them out of hand without considering them. They sound wrong and that’s the end of that.
    Instead, think ‘what if…?’ and work out some pros and cons to different ideas. You may find something positive after all, or you may have a useful list of cons to use in future discussions.
  5. Imagine what it’s like to be an outsider looking in for the first time – When you don’t have all that experience, what does the start look like? If you had to explain things to a child, how easy would it be?
  6. Imagine what it’s like for an insider in a very different position to your own – People are great at working together, but they regularly take on very different roles. You may be working toward the same goal, but is everybody travelling toward the goal in the same way?
  7. Play devil’s advocate on your own long-term opinions – After years of sticking to your guns, it’s worth nudging yourself once in a while and arguing with your own opinion. Pick great holes in your well-worn perspective and argue back with just as much conviction.
  8. Don’t take anything for granted. ANYTHING. – It’s easy to forget that you know so much about the topic and that you have no doubt developed lots of short cuts and assumptions. Scrap them. Start afresh. If you haven’t done something the long way round for a while, it’s worth reminding yourself.
  9. Go somewhere else. Do something new – A new perspective on other things around you will get you thinking in new ways. Use this to your advantage. If you can’t get away from your physical surroundings, listen to some music you wouldn’t usually choose.
  10. View from a different medium – Used to doing everything on a screen? Print it out. Tired of text? Try an infographic. Bored of the same textbook? Find a new book on the same subject.
  11. Sit on it – When you’ve been over-thinking, fresh thoughts are hard to come by. Put it down for an hour, a day, a week, a month…whatever. Come back to it when you’re no longer obsessing over things.
  12. Stay curious – Auto-pilot is dangerous. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but can boost your career
  13. Write about it (mega credit to @emmielouli) – Get words out on the page and your view may look different to the shorthand version in your head. If your view stays the same, you may notice gaps in your knowledge and questions you can’t quite answer. These aren’t reasons to be ashamed. These are areas to explore!
  14. Look across different sectors/subjects (mega credit to @helencurtis) – You don’t have to stay on your own turf. Find out what happens elsewhere. See what’s different. How could it work in your context?
  15. You tell me… – I need a fresh perspective. What do you do to get a fresh view of something? Let me know in the comments!

3 comments

  1. At conferences, go to the presentation stream that is outside your immediate area of interest. You’ll already be motivated to read the papers in your area or seek out the speakers over coffee so you won’t miss out but you might suprise yourself with new connections to your work, or be inspired by alternative ways of working in different disciplines.

    1. Hehe! I’ve done this a few times before, Fiona. When I see a presentation that’s right up my street, I consider the likelihood of getting anything new from it. Not just from the content, but also from new contacts, Q&A engagement, etc. If I believe I won’t get too much new from it, I’ll seek something completely different. Sometimes I strike gold, other times it’s neither here nor there. But I feel I only have something to gain from that approach.

      Thanks for your tip. It’s a goodie. 🙂

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