Home » Can Talking to Strangers Boost Your Creativity: David Sturt (Transcript)

Can Talking to Strangers Boost Your Creativity: David Sturt (Transcript)

David Sturt at TEDxSaltLakeCity

Following is the full transcript of author David Sturt’s talk titled “Can Talking to Strangers Boost Your Creativity?” at TEDxSaltLakeCity conference.

David Sturt – Author of Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love

A group of heart surgeons were gathered together to discuss a very difficult problem that they were encountering.

Following heart surgery, a number of young patients had died unexpectedly. These doctors worked in a London children’s hospital and they were struggling to try to identify where the problems were and what they could do to fix them.

After a lot of looking at the data, they discovered that the problem was here. It was in this critical handoff following the surgery in the operating room as they were moving the patients into the intensive care unit where they would get better over the next several weeks.

They found that there was a breakdown. There were communications and technology breakdowns that happened in this important transfer. And they were struggling with how to fix it. It was very complicated.

As you would unplug all of the equipment from the stationary equipment to mobile equipment and then back again, there were a whole group of doctors and nurses that were involved in this critical transition.

And as they wracked their brains on how to solve this, they felt like it was overwhelming. One of the doctors, after a long surgery one Sunday morning, happened to notice in the background in the doctors’ lounge, what was playing on the television was a Formula 1 race. And he enjoyed it and was watching it.

And as he was watching, one of the things that fascinated him was the pit crew. He noticed that 20 individuals would leap over the wall as the car pulled into the bay.

They would jack the car up, they would pull the wheels off, put the wheels back on, gas the tank, clear the air intakes, drop the car back down, and get it all back out on the track in 6.8 seconds. And it just blew his mind.

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He thought, “How in the world do you get that many people working together that quickly to solve a problem?”

And then the idea occurred to him. What if I had a conversation with those guys? I wonder what we could learn from the pit crew that might inform our solution in post-surgery?

And so he did something that a lot of people don’t do. He picked up the phone and he called the Ferrari pit crew in Italy. Got a hold of the leader of the pit crew and said, “I just want to talk to you. How do you do what you do? How do you pull this off with such precision and such speed? How do you do it?”

They had a long conversation that led to them inviting him and one of the other doctors to go to Italy and actually see the process. How do they pull this off?

That led to more conversations.

While he was there, the leader of the pit crew said, “Look, why don’t you videotape this transfer and send it to us and we’ll gather together as a pit crew and we’ll take a look at it? And we’ll see if we might be able to help you.”

Who does that, right? What does a pit crew know about post-surgery issues?

So the doctor did it. They filmed it. They sent the film to them. And the pit crew called them back and said, “Oh, my goodness, it’s chaos! How is it that more people don’t die?”

So that then caused follow-up conversations where they started to break down the processes and say, “Look, I don’t see anybody in charge here. I don’t see all of the correct protocols that you need to use if you’re moving fast.”

And so that led to them implementing a whole bunch of these operational improvements that led to a 50% decline in error. 50%!

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Now you ask yourself, “How does that happen?”

Why is it that a conversation between doctors who understand their discipline very, very well, and a pit crew who knows nothing about that, how can that facilitate and spark fresh thinking to solve a problem?

We had similar questions. I have the good fortune of working with the O.C. Tanner Institute where we study all kinds of human behavior as it relates to work. How people work and particularly how do they innovate? How do they actually make a difference through their work?

One of the things we were studying was thinking: “If all of these different people are innovating across thousands of examples and thousands of industries, what do they do, are there any common practices?”

And so we took a subset of a database that included millions of examples of people who had actually received an award from their organization for the innovation and difference that they had made. And we thought to ourselves, let’s study those nominations for those awards. And let’s see if there are any patterns.

And this is across a wide range, from hospital janitors to vice presidents in big organizations. What are they actually doing that contributes to innovation? Are there common denominators as we look across the data?

So we took a random sample of 10,000 of them. And we read through every one of them and coded them according to the themes that we saw emerge: Out of what actions were they taking that seemed to make all the difference?

One of those actions was the kinds of conversations that they were having. Conversations that ended up leading them to innovate and to make the difference that people would love.

As you think about our conversations, all of us have an inner circle, right? We have an inner circle of 2 to 5 people where we spend most of our time talking with them.

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This is the group of people you can call up and just quickly have a conversation. Not a lot of overhead. These are people that you trust and instantly you can relate to, right?

Think about your own people in your inner circle. Usually there’s a family member or two. Are all of your family members in your inner circle? Generally not. Which is kind of an interesting question, right?

To be somebody in your inner circle usually requires a level of trust, and a level of connection between you and those individuals that you can pick up and talk to.

It’s a wonderful support group when you’re struggling with something. You can have conversations with somebody who understands you, who trusts you, whom you can relate with.

However, inner circles also serve as a bubble. Inner circles are a tiny, little community of ideas and thought. That’s the restriction of the inner circle.

What we found in our data was that conversations with your outer circle — with people far outside your own inner circle of either friends outside of work life or your inner circle in your work life — conversations with your outer circle is what drove the innovation.

And in fact, our research and other research proves that the further out you go, the further away you go from your core team, increases the chances that you’ll have an innovative, fresh, new, different idea. That’s where our best ideas and thoughts come from.

So why is that? What is it about conversations with somebody who’s totally different from you, who has a different discipline from you, different life experiences from you? Why does it work? What is the mechanism that drives that?

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