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Thinking out-of-the-box: How we actively promote lateral thinking

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Only those who do not stick to traditional thought patterns but adapt solutions from other disciplines and cultures are innovative. But how does a major corporation manage to systematically broaden the horizons of its employees? Deutsche Telekom manages to do this at the Center for Strategic Projects with an international exchange program.


20191112_Thinking_TelekomStandorte

Deutsche Telekom is in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Deutsche Telekom. The name gives no clue to how global our Group is but our international footprint is actually huge: With approximately 178 million mobile customers, 28 million fixed lines, and 20 million broadband lines, Deutsche Telekom is one of the world's leading integrated telecommunications companies. We are currently represented in more than 50 countries and, in 2018, we generated around 66 percent of our revenue outside Germany. Our Board of Management departments also demonstrate that we see ourselves as an international company: Srini Gopalan has been our Board Member for Europe since 2017, Thorsten Langheim is responsible for the Corporate Development & USA Board of Management department and Adel Al-Saleh is in charge of the corporate customer unit. Our business is not only becoming increasingly international; Deutsche Telekom is also facing new global challenges. Increasing competition from companies such as Google and Facebook, young start-ups, and demographic change call for innovative solutions. If you want to keep up here, you have to take different cultures and local customs into account. You must be open to suggestions and ideas from colleagues all over the world. Review your own way of thinking. Expand your horizons. We call this out of the box thinking. A way of thinking that differentiates itself from traditional thought patterns and also uses approaches from outside fields. We believe that this way of thinking is crucial and can make the difference between success and failure. 

Getting away from everyday business

At the Center for Strategic Projects, our project enquiries mean we are aware just how international our Group is. No matter where our customer is located, we want to get the best possible benefit on their behalf and live up to our motto "passion for impact". That's why we make use of exchanges with other departments with the aim of promoting out of the box thinking. Deutsche Telekom gives selected colleagues the opportunity to work in another department for between three to six months. Even abroad. Because external impulses are welcome!

A red bridge over a river

Even the Dalai Lama suggests visiting a place you have never been to once a year. Our author chose San Francisco.

Cognitive flexibility through international experience

During my exchange, I worked in the Partnering department of Deutsche Telekom in San Francisco for four months. The local colleagues not only further develop our business; they also identify potential partners for our business areas. This is all based on a three-step process: First scouting & inspiration (getting to know one another), then qualify & test (initial testing of the potential partnership), and finally implementation (implementation of the partnership). Colleagues at our offices outside of Bonn are mostly responsible for the first two stages. In order to always be directly involved, the Partnering department has offices in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, London, Beijing and Seoul.

During my stay in California, I gained deep insights into innovation topics such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Data Analytics, 5G, Entertainment, and Cyber Security – and, in close interaction with Bonn, I also learned a lot about our business and current challenges. The AI ecosystem in North America was particularly impressive. Europeans experience an innovative power on the ground that is really inspiring. However, such a stay not only expands and deepens knowledge about artificial intelligence and data analytics; the exchange also promotes personal development.

Of course, it's not enough just to go abroad. "Experiences abroad increase cognitive flexibility, intensity. as well as the ability to create new relationships," explained Professor Adam Galinsky from the Columbia Business School in The Atlantic magazine. According to the expert, the decisive factors are multicultural interaction, immersion in the foreign culture, and adaptation. Numerous studies have indicated that if one really gets involved with the unknown, then it is possible to increase the neuroplasticity of one's own brain.

How to broaden your horizons!

Here are a few of my tips to make out of the box thinking easier for you in the future: 

1. New input? Yes please!

 There’s a high chance that your new colleagues will work in a different way than you are used to. Be open. Get on board – you can still evaluate their approach later. The less you fall back into old habits, the more open you are to new approaches. Show interest, listen carefully, ask questions: For instance, the experts in the United States were happy to explain their approaches to me whenever I asked. Remember: The inventive spirit of the Silicon Valley is largely based on the willingness to learn from people working in other disciplines. University spin-offs often apply traditional expertise from other disciplines to completely new areas and revolutionize markets. A great place to explore the latest Silicon Valley inventions is the B8ta Store.

2. Flex your brain

 As soon as you are confronted with a new environment or a new culture, you can leave your previously-learned thought patterns behind. They won't help you anymore. This is a great opportunity to question and expand existing thought patterns. Out of the box thinking will certainly be much easier for you afterwards. The best exercise for me was to explore the AI ecosystem in Canada. Exploring common goals and potential fields of application for start-up solutions requires a lot of mental flexibility and is unique for each meeting. By the way, the effect increases when communication completely takes place in a foreign language.

3. Get out of your comfort zone

 There are new things to discover every day in a foreign environment. Those who leave their accustomed environment, really get involved in the exchange, and discard their daily routines and habits will benefit in the long-term. When scouting start-ups at trade fairs and conferences, I learned a lot about the potential fields of application and usage cases in the area of artificial intelligence and data analytics at Deutsche Telekom. Believe me, the new impulses stimulate your brain. So just switch off the autopilot.

4. Learn something new

 Whenever you deal with something unusual, you change your thinking structures. Sign up for a course, get a new hobby. Of course, the Bay Area with its many workshops and MeetUps was perfect for me. One of the most exciting impulses was a lecture on "Exponential Mindset" at Singularity University, which I organized for a delegation of major German Deutsche Telekom customers. However, I'm sure that experts in your city will also be happy to share their knowledge – often even for free.


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