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You Can Never Understand A System From the Inside

Perry Marshall sent out this email today.

So much of it rang true for me, and I wanted to share it with you here, as well as archive it for myself.

In 8th grade one of my teachers assigned me to write a report about the United States and one other country. I chose India.

I'd never left the US and I'd never gone to India. Yet somehow India wasn't all that hard to write about - I asked one of my other teachers a bunch of questions because she had been to India. I wrote about women's colorful dresses and Hindu temples and all that. All the stuff a foreigner notices.

But writing about the US was tough. What can a fish really tell you about water? I did a pretty mediocre job.

Fast forward 15 years, Laura and I fly to Sao Paulo Brazil. Our first trip to an 'exotic' place. Utterly fascinating. Intense.

We come home and not only do I know a thing or two about Brazil, I suddenly understand the US so much better than before. I sent this email to a friend:

"We arrived safely back in Chicago this morning. I noticed a few special things. Even our own suburb, where all the houses are 5' from each other, looks downright spacious compared to the jumbled maze of graffiti and concrete we grew accustomed to in Brazil.

"The most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago is safer than the nicest neighborhood in Sao Paulo. We have no poverty in Chicago.

"The air here is comparatively fresh, even during rush hour (I especially appreciate the fact that trucks' exhaust pipes here exit ABOVE the truck, rather than out the side into your passenger car window) and I have a new appreciation for such fine individuals as our own Mayor Daley and President Clinton ;^) "

You can't understand a system from the inside. You have to climb out of it, and see it from a new perspective.


-It's always easier for someone else to advise you about your business than theirs

-It's so much easier for you to advise someone else about their business than to fix your own

-I percolate interesting side projects which are totally outside of business.

-Half my keynote presentation in Maui was about soap bubbles, turtle shells and biology - because Sunflower seeds, like search engines, use algorithms. I needed something new so I consulted Mother Nature. Sunflowers teach you stuff about search engines, that the search engine would never tell you.

-It's why in Roundtable, every single person in the room comes from a different industry than everyone else. At the last 4-Man Intensive, a guy from the health food industry offered stunning insight to an investment banker. A guy in alternative energy had advice for both of them.

-It's why I wouldn't get caught dead *not* being in some kind of Mastermind group and mentoring relationship with people more experienced than myself. I relentlessly try to transcend the limitations of my own perspectives.

-It's why it's so great to travel. Every time you go to a strange new place, you feel your brain literally growing new connections. It starts before you get to a new country and continues for weeks after you come back. Processing, processing, processing new experiences.

-It's why you should read voraciously. By the way, not only should you read authors who live outside your comfortable little world, and outside your culture, you should go out of your way to read people from outside your century. If wisdom is knowledge with no expiration date, you'll get a lot more from a 500 or 2500 year old book than USA Today.

(By the way one of the most crippling diseases of the 21st century is us thinking we're smarter than people who lived 1,000 years ago. I call it "Chronological Snobbery." Hey pal, it took a lot more wits and street smarts to do pretty much anything then than it does now.)

People who exercise these habits quickly come to realize that this additional perspective arms you with dramatic, powerful and actionable advantages over other people in your industry.

You come to realize that "industries" as such only exist to perpetuate the status quo. New ideas almost NEVER come from the inside. Bill Gates wasn't part of the Mainframe Computer club and Larry and Sergey weren't good ol' boys in the search engine game.

Your vastly wider perspective gives you super powers. You come to see most other people in most businesses as characters in a Little Rabbit Fu Fu game. You can go around bonking them on the head, if you want. Usually they don't know what hit them.

Maybe best of all, life in an ever-expanding perspective is ALWAYS interesting. Never a dull moment or day. You experience more adventures in a month than most people do in a year.

My friend, I urge you: Climb outside your little world. Then climb out of the new world you've just discovered... then climb out again.

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