Dan Wang in his Strategy & Business article ‘The Untapped potential of Overseas Experience‘ talks about the value of intangible experience that the employees visiting other geographies bring to the table. They highlight how the expected returns like acquisition of new skills or enhancement of old skills or new technology are well understood and hence well used by the organizations. However when an employee goes out of his home base and lives in a new environment, there are many more things that he picks up like a new way to do things, new processes to streamline work or small little things that can improve the day to day operations or a new way the ideas are handled in the visited place. Employees may learn things from the organization they are visiting but from the region in general – as they see the new place from their existing perspective. These are not necessarily things expected from them, these are things that we pick up when we get out of our comfort zones and see things that are too obvious to the natives.
While Wang focusses on the fact that organizations do not leverage these experiences, I want to extend the thought and say – organizations need to send their key employees ( if possible all employees) to new geographies every now and then, so that they learn something from those environments – even if it means learning what not to do. It would be akin to consciously creating intersections for your team, that is bound to make them think in innovative ways. We think of news ideas naturally when we are in a new environment, with no need for any artificially created stimulus as is done in brainstorming sessions and other classroom activities. We absorb all that we see and anything that can be potentially ported to our own environment stands out on its own. All we need is a platform back home that would allow us to use this newly acquired knowledge.
If organizations can create a framework that allows them to tap into this knowledge in a formal way – it would be great, but till then if the managers can informally tap into this knowledge before it goes back into the recesses of the mind and memory, it can be a big source of innovative ideas in the organizations.