The Power of Outsiders

Today I’m hosting a 4-Man Intensive and before members come, they get a questionnaire. One of the questions is: “List 5 topics you know a lot about, that most people don’t know you know a lot about.”

I ask this question for a very specific reason: Cross-pollination between fields. I want to know what strengths they bring from other areas of life into what they do now.

That’s because the easiest way to innovate is to bring knowledge and strategies from one corner of the world to some other, completely different corner, where they can be directly applied and everything is brand spankin’ new.


When you do this, somebody ain’t gonna like it.

Case in point: Russian engineer Genrich Altshuller developed a method for innovation called TRIZ. TRIZ (pronounced “trees”) is a 40-step Swiss army knife for solving engineering problems, especially for physical products and devices.

The book 40 Principles: TRIZ Keys to Technical Innovation reports: “Scientists claimed that inventions were the result of accidents, mood or ‘blood type.’ Altshuller could not accept this. If a methodology for inventing did not exist, one should be developed… invention is nothing more than the removal of a technical contradiction with the help of certain principles.”

TRIZ was enormously effective. Altshuller’s efforts to empower Russian engineers with his method for systematic creativity eventually led him to write a letter to Josef Stalin.

The end result of his contributions was, he and his partner Rafael Shapiro were charged with “inventor’s sabotage” and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

The person who is opposed to cross-pollination is almost always someone who is not doing their job. You don’t have to be a historian to know that scientific progress under Stalin was not exactly stellar.

Nevertheless TRIZ is now known worldwide as a highly effective tool for “systematic creativity.”

(The essential formula for my Intensives and Mastermind Groups is: Everyone in the room is an outsider to whatever industry YOU are in. It gives you the power of being an outsider within your industry, even though you’re not.)

Another outsider was Barbara McClintock, who was the greatest geneticist of the 20th century. In 1944 she discovered that if she damaged the DNA in a corn plant so that it could not reproduce, it would repair the DNA, copying code from other chromosomes and building entirely new structures if necessary. Then it would reproduce.

Nobody even imagined at the time that a plant could be “smart enough” to do such a thing. Such a theory flew in the face of Darwinian dogma, which dictated that evolutionary adaptation came from random copying errors.

McClintock’s work proved this was most emphatically not the case. But the response to her first presentations of this were met with such hostility, she stopped publishing papers for 20 years.

30 years later, she won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of “Jumping Genes.” Her picture is now on a US Postage stamp, which I have framed in a stamp holder in my office. To me, she represents the maverick, the renegade, the innovator who challenges existing dogma. One who shifts the atmosphere and leads the world into new realms of understanding.

“If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.” -Ghandi

When you’re a maverick, nobody understands you. You just know the truth in your heart and you follow your convictions anyway.

Which is worse: Standing by your convictions and not being understood… or coming to the end of your life and knowing you failed to take a stand?

Perry Marshall


About the Author

Entrepreneur Magazine says: "Perry Marshall is the #1 author and world's most-quoted consultant on Google Advertising. He has helped over 100,000 advertisers save literally billions of dollars in Adwords stupidity tax."

He is referenced across the Internet and by The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and Forbes Magazine.

Last 5 Posts by Perry

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Posted by Perry on January 31st, 2013. Filed in Marketing Blog. Tagged as . Follow responses thru Comments RSS. Follow responses thru Comments RSS.

Comments on The Power of Outsiders »

  • robert says:

    But Perry, if you surround yourself with industry insiders and commiserate with people who are approaching the problem the same way you are, then you get to be RIGHT without having to do the work!

  • Geoff says:

    Hi Perry,
    McClintock’s work shows the power of the scientific method, which comes around to the best fitting concepts for the facts – the facts (or results) from experiments after hypothesis, or with biology, usually observations.

    Great proof of evolution, complex as it is.

    btw are you still a maverick? Thought you are leading guy!

    Thanks, your pal Geoff

    • Perry says:

      James Shapiro, who was a student of McClintock, likes to say “If you’re doing science properly, you always run into surprises.”

      I hope I do a good job of being a maverick, EVEN THOUGH I’m an industry leader.

      • Oliver Baumbach says:

        One who at the same time strays from the wellworn paths and leads others along that path should be called a trailbreaker.

  • Gemma says:


    It’s an interesting term. Importantly such thoughts are of necessity tied closely to thinking inside boxes. Because you have an inside – and an outside.

    Usually it is the outsider who has the revelation.

    Which of course is where the problems start – the insiders only like people who think in the same box as they do. Which of course is a self-compounding problem. The essence of the problem is that to have a box to think in, we need to define it. The very act of definition puts you inside.

    Or outside.

    The problem is that our definitions get narrower. We have php, java and drupal developers now where once we had webdesigners. The narrower the box, the less you are able to imagine anything else.

    Thinking outside the box is more than just looking in over the walls. If you are to even glimpse this power, you need to dispense with logic. Believe me, that is no easy thing to do. Okay, logic is still there floating in the vastness like some archepelago of desert islands. To work outside the box, as I do, requires a pattern of thinking that is unfixed, undefined and free.

    Which is when it gets dangerous. Those who are not prepared to use these faculties – like Caligula, want to catch the moon in their spoon.

    Yet Perry has given us the key here. He speaks of the TRIZ method, a basic framework of options that is not rigidly defined. No wonder they incurred Stalin’s wrath! Stalin was an Insider. What have we in the Swiss Army Knife? A map of human emotions. Not all of them it’s true. That is irrelevant. Because emotions are the key to thinking outside the box.

    They are unfixed, undefined and cannot be contained. Yet they are as evident to you and me as any fact – yet are denied by the Insider because there is no proof. Understanding how an emotion has a character yet no form is the key to understanding how to tread those dangerous paths into the void.

  • Thanks Perry, this is EXACTLY what I needed today. Like you read my mind. Its a lonely place being an entrepreneur and I’m sure glad I have somewhere to turn where it all makes sense!


  • Bart Baker says:

    I love this sentence, Perry: “When you’re a maverick, nobody understands you. You just know the truth in your heart and you follow your convictions anyway.”

    There comes a time when you need to STOP trying to satisfy people who are not “on the same page” with regard to your vision. I’m talking about friends, neighbors, employees, other respected business people, and yes, even your own spouse.

    You are the only person in the world who can clearly see your entire vision. Without this perspective, others will never fully understand or appreciate where you’re going with it – until they see the end result.

    Listen to them, be polite, keep an open mind for great ideas (which will definitely happen), but do not compromise your vision or your convictions by trying to satisfy these people, implementing everything they suggest. Otherwise, your vision will just end up watered-down and mediocre, at best.

    Get ideas everywhere, discard all but those that enhance your vision, and simply forge ahead.


  • “…cross pollination…” Love that graphic. It’s about absorbing what’s in the air to enhance our own productivity. In order to do that, we have to be humble enough to welcome improvement as well as criticism. (Hopefully not imprisonment.)

  • John Kirk Browning says:

    One of my favorite examples about mavericks is the Wright Brothers. They were never a real big development team (ha!) and it is probable that the first university curriculum for aeronautical engineering was developed well after they flew the Wright Flyer in 1903. They were “just” bicycle mechanics with a worldview, vision and persistence. In our times we have a choke on breakthrough; “are you certified in the latest release of Microsoft SQL?”, meaning if your certification is “old” you aren’t employable. I was wondering once if there were universal principles of design. Then I was thumbing through a copy of Industry Week and saw a reference to TRIZ. That was an answer, especially when I look at its breadth and depth of application. Then the existence of powerful design methods became an argument for intelligently designed materials.

  • Jim Crosby says:

    I started this blog for one reason, a search for the truth. As Perry Marshall echoes Ghandi, “If you are right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

  • Josh says:

    Very few people in power want the truth (business owners, school admins, politicians, MDs, etc). Many are comfortable with pushing the status quo that keeps them in power.

    Examples like Altshuller and (early) McClintock seem to be the norm. Ron Paul feels like a contemporary example, toiling away for years, gaining a following, but no effect on leadership (yet).

    Being an idealist myself, also having yet to make any real impact in my limited sphere, I think being a “Maverick” is a life of martyrdom and never ending frustration. And it may be a hair-splitting argument, but I don’t find Perry to be a “Maverick” in the sense of Altshuller and McClintock, but has simply raised his flag and attracted others that thought like him already.

    I won’t change the path of truth seeking for my family, but I’m much less inclined to try to change the opinion of others, regardless of how much it may help them.

    • Mary Blanc says:

      Josh–You practically parody Yourself !!

      No One… with very few exceptions… gets to BE a Business Owners, School Administrator, Elected Politician, MD, etc, without having weathered many brainstorms of ideas… some good, some brilliant and most impracticable-if-not-downright-unworkable… generated by THEMSELVES & Others.

      As We Know…

      Time has a way of EVER-CHANGING!…
      Who/What/How/Where’s IN–AND–Who/What/How/Where’s OUT
      AND WHY.

      It’s WHY Ya Jes’ Gotsta Hang IN There–Baby…
      AND IF–
      It Turns OUT That You’re The One To CHANGE! Your Mind…
      Double & Triple Check Your Work–AND–IF It STILL Comes OUT The NEW Way…

      You May Decide…
      with more confidence to… GO WITH IT !!

      RE: “I won’t change the path of truth seeking for my family, but I’m much less inclined to try to change the opinion of others, regardless of how much it may help them.”

      Keep IN Mind The Possibility THAT–
      Those others may have come to the SAME CONCLUSIONS about getting your opinions to come around. Truth is complex and our labels & definitions–as we attempt to discover & explain truth–will always…

      fall short of the goal…

      YET STILL–
      There IS Something About Human Beings…
      That We Keep AIMING For What We KNOW We Can NOT Attain… At Least–NOT IN ANY FINAL SENSE IN THIS WORLD…

      Ultimately–The BEST PLAN IS To Cheer UP–
      AND We’ll Agree To All Give “IT” OUR BEST.

      • Josh says:

        Thanks for the laugh as I can now see how ironic (and cynical) my comment came across:)
        I do agree to cheer up and give it my best.

  • Altsuller was right and so are you Perry. Systems of Creativity are never going to be popular whilst we continueto hold a view that suggests that Creative Talent is something one is born with.

    That genius is God given. The truth is that we each have talents that can be used nurtured employed exercised or allowed to wither and decay. Innate ability combined with an aptitude for hard work the encouragement of a loving parent and the inspiration necessary to step up. Thats what makes for a creative mind able to connect across multiple scenarios

  • How can we create a culture where thinking “outside the box” is actually encouraged? We either go along with the crowd, with the peers, or we create from that place within us that’s known to be creative—the soul. It’s either living from one’s truth, or going along with peer pressure.

  • Hey Perry,

    This exercise – 5 things you know a lot about, that others don’t know you know – reminds me of the exercise you had us do pre-Alchemist Rainmaker this past Sept (2012). Certainly got my brain going when I did it. Right along the lines of your “Confessions of a Kool-Aid Drinker” blog post and exercise (worthy of doing for anyone who reads this).

    About science, discovery, and creativity…

    I just read a lights-out blog post suggested by Dr. Glenn Livingston… a post by David Wong, “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person”. To read it, just Google “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person |”.

    (warning, David Wong’s post has swearing)

    In the blog post, David Wong describes how it’s a lot easier – and safer – to criticize than create. To sit on the sidelines and judge, tear down, and criticize other people’s “best efforts”… it’s easier and safer than putting *yourself* in the spotlight for public scrutiny (of one kind or another).

    (reminds me of Statler and Waldorf, the critics from the Muppets… always the critics, never actually on the literal or figurative “stage” of life…)

    Wong’s astute commentary goes on to acknowledge that almost everytime life’s hecklers pop up, it’s almost *always* a case of a non-creator judging a creator. And that it’s often borne from the non-creator suddenly feeling self-conscious, nervous, and insecure because the creator is leaving them in the dust.

    This scenario is especially poignant when we’re striving to make a life change that our close family, friends, associates *aren’t* willing to make… the only way they can get back on our level is by tearing us *down*…. instead of doing the work to *rise up* themselves.

    As David Wong says, “your fat friends want to keep you fat”. Obviously we can extend the concept to virtually any other domain: making money, improving relationships, or anything else… “your poor friends want to keep you poor”, “your jilted, resentful, bitter friends want to keep you from happily dating anyone else”, and on and on and on….

    Tim :)

  • craig says:

    “When you do this, somebody ain’t gonna like it”
    You nailed it. Ultimate truth = ultimate pain

  • Judy Tham says:

    My favourite “Maverick” is Gandhi, because not only did he stand up to what he believed in, he did it with such quiet perseverance few can measure up to. It is very difficult to do that in India at that time, and as an Asian, I can understand the struggles that he must have been through. The idea of Cross-pollination, particularly for adding diversity to content is great, but like many endeavors, it’s the implementation that matters!

  • Paula says:

    There are so many insights to be gained by synthesizing ideas across disciplines which points to the fact that many principles are universal and that anyone can contribute to a field by adapting the concepts originally developed for something else

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