Why innovation comes from the outside

Two years ago I travelled the world for six months to live and train with the best athletes and coaches on the planet. There is one thing from my journey I have never forgotten:

Innovation often comes from the outside.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

Colm O’Connell, the world’s most successful running coach in the history was a geography teacher.

Stephen Francis, the world’s most successful sprinting coach was a statistician.

Won Park, the successful Korean golf coach was an environmental activist fighting against the establishment of golf courses until he fell in love with the game.

It is really counter intuitive because we tend to assume that the innovation comes from the most experienced or knowledgeable person in a particular field.

However, my findings suggest that innovation often comes from the outside from people with very little experience. Being an outsider can be a tremendous advantage.


Innovation comes from not knowing – or being able to suspend what you know. It simply requires that you forget the things you take for granted – and ask yourself, what if things didn’t have to be the way they are?

When it comes to innovation, knowledge can be a blind spot. Sometimes we can know too much. This is why being an outsider to an industry can be such a powerful force in generating new ideas. The outside view allows us to fundamentally shift our approach from seeing the problem the way it’s always been seen.

As the Jamaican sprinting coach, Stephen Francis, told me:

“I have taken the steps to understand what traditional sprinting coaches know by coming from the inside. But I don’t think they have taken the steps to understand what I know by coming from the outside.”

One of the keys to innovation is to ask the questions of an outsider, even though you are an insider.

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