Light Bulb Design, Vector illustration It’s great when you’ve developed a specialty or become an expert on a topic. You know an industry or market forwards and backwards. It’s a key point of differentiation for many brands — expertise — and something to use to your advantage.

But sometimes that deep knowledge and experience can be a hindrance to generating new ideas or investigating different possibilities. You become stuck in a rut, doing what you’ve always done or rejecting new ideas or approaches because “it’ll never work.” You see obstacles instead of possibilities, if you can even see the possibilities in the first place. You say “why bother” instead of “why not.”

And, sadly, maybe you did try something different in the past and it didn’t work out. As Homer Simpson once said, “You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.”

So, how do you overcome your own internal biases, your self-imposed blinders and the barriers of your expertise to generate new ideas or explore new possibilities? It’s pretty simple, actually.

Stop doing what you’ve always done, and do something different.

Don’t look to the past — your expertise, your comfort zone, your tried-and-true — rather look outside. Literally. Here are five ways to shake things up a little.

1. Look to other industries.
Pick up different magazines or visit different websites in random categories like food or fashion or travel. What is being talked about or advertised? Do you notice customer challenges your business shares? Are there solutions that could be applied to your situation?

2. Find a company you admire.
Pretend a company you admire is running your marketing or sales department. How would they do things differently if they were suddenly in charge? How have they taken risks and succeeded (or failed)? What did they learn, and what can you learn?

3. Get away from your desk.
You may have a better chance at finding a new idea or opportunity if you get out of the office. Visit a customer. Shop a competitor. Observe people interacting with your product category. Wander into a store you’ve never been into before. I love to travel, and one of my favorite things to do — especially when I’m out of the country — is to visit the grocery store. You can learn a lot about a country by living like a local for a little while.

4. Dig deeper.
It isn’t always about you or your brand; sometimes it’s about a seemingly unrelated challenge your customer is facing, but talking about your brand’s features and benefits isn’t going to solve it. Empathize with your customer first before selling them on your new feature.

5. Apply your personal interests.
What are you passionate about? Why is that so? How can you translate that passion to your business?

Being an expert is a good thing, but being a “Renaissance Man” can have its advantages too. Develop wide interests and cultivate other areas of expertise by stepping outside of what you know and venturing into the unknown. You may find it’s not that different than your “unique” situation. And you may pick up a new idea or two to help get you unstuck.

About Patrick McGill

As the managing director of strategy, Patrick is our very own Sherlock Holmes. When he’s not immersed in research, you’ll more than likely find Patrick traveling — those travels have taken him to all 50 states. You can email our inquisitive Mr. McGill at