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Think Outside-In, Not Inside-Out

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

Outside-in means approaching your business from your customers’ point of view. Not yours.

Too many companies claim to focus on their customers but really don’t. Have you ever called customer service with a problem, only to be told “That’s X’s job, not mine”? Infuriating, right? That’s inside-out thinking—putting your organization at the center of your business.

Look, nobody outside of your organization cares about your organizational structure.

So why do companies do this? Because they think it’s easier or more efficient for them. But they’re not thinking about the customer. When you put the customer in the center, when everything your business does is meant to satisfy and delight your customers, you just see things differently.

When you look at your company’s customer service, do your customers see your company as a bunch of siloed departments? Or as one team? When a customer calls, they don’t want to deal with your internal structure. Customers want to interact with you. They want you to solve their problem.

Put your customers at the heart of your work.

Steve Denning writes about “the Copernican revolution in management,” which is basically a core shift in perspective. In the Renaissance, when Nicolaus Copernicus challenged the European idea of the cosmos—from the Ptolemaic model, where the Sun revolved around Earth, to a heliocentric model, where the Earth revolves around the Sun—he challenged an entire worldview.

Denning compares that shift in cosmology to shifting how your business views its place in the world.

Since your customers generate your firm’s revenue, you need them to survive. So put them at the center of your work. Think outside-in. Don’t think that your customers revolve around you. They don’t.

Instead, fight on their behalf! Be their hero. Imagine that your customer’s been wronged by the world, by terrible customer service or poorly designed products. Your company swoops in to fight for them. You get it. And you’re going to make everything right.

Two questions can help your business get on the path to outside-in thinking.

  1. Given the choice between what’s good for your customer and what’s good for your company, which do you choose? OUTSIDE-IN THINKING What do our clients need now? And how can we help them? What kind of relationships do our clients expect us to establish with them? What value do our clients need to see before they are willing to pay us? INSIDE-OUT THINKING What products can we sell to our clients? What services can we sell to our clients? What relationships do we need to establish with our clients? How can we make money from our clients?

  2. Do you view your business from your customers’ perspectives or not?

Inside-out thinking is an organization-centric culture. It asks “What do we want?”

Outside-in thinking is a customer-centric culture. It asks “What do our customers want?”

You can measure your company’s mindset shift by its approach to growth, marketing and customer service. When you put your company at the center, you'll try to bring customers to you. When you de-center your company and put your customers at the heart of your work, you adopt a mindset of service.

And when you do that, knowing that customers are in a constant state of motion, you’ll want to become agile. To serve them, you need to.



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I'm Ahmed Sidky.

As a seasoned practitioner of business agility, I want to share these insights with the world.

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