I’ve been an England football fan for three decades. It’s been painful.

That is, until Gareth Southgate became manager in 2016 and dared to be, think and do differently.

He brought in psychologist Pippa Grange, who encouraged players to share their stories of struggle and vulnerability. Through honest connection, they forged a team. A team that is performing.

Southgate understands something that’s deceptively simple: “I like listening to people who know things that I don’t. That’s how you learn.’

Southgate is an understated man who has disrupted the rules of management and strong-man leadership in a country that takes its football very seriously.

For example, instead of reverentially consulting the elders of football management, he created a more eclectic Technical Advisory Board:

  • Educational Theorist, Michael Barber
  • Serial Entrepreneur, Manoj Bedale
  • Cycling Coach, Dave Brailsford
  • Commander Lucy Giles
  • Table Tennis Champion and Author, Matthew Syed
  • Olympic Champion Rower, Kath Grainger

The aim was to inject new thinking into a tired establishment from high performers in different fields.

We have a tendency to surround ourselves with people who think like us. The Ancient Greeks called it ‘homophily’, love of the same. It’s a comfortable place to be, yet we know that it limits our creativity, the possibilities, the stretch that is called for now, that we are here for now, when we open ourselves to people who think differently.

It’s time to let go of what you think you know and look up.

David Hieatt is a serial entrepreneur and creative director. His ideas festival ‘The Do Lectures’  brings together all kinds of ‘doers’ and in this collision of ideas, sparks fly.

He sees it like this:

“Creativity is like velcro. On one side is a series of hooks going in lots of random directions. On the other side is a series of loops going in lots of random directions. When a hook meets a loop, they connect. It is in the connection business. To have new ideas we need to have lots of random hooks and loops. If we read the same old books, we get to know more about the thing we know lots about already. We need to subscribe to magazines that we wouldn’t normally subscribe to; we need to go to places that we wouldn’t normally go to, eat at places that may not be our kind of place, see different films, pick up different books.”

Take a quick survey of what you are consuming and the conversations you are having. Where can you expand your range and therefore your capacity for making connections and finding solutions you’ve never needed until now?

What are you reading? What else might you read that would expand or disrupt your thinking? Or give your brain a rest, some space, some joy, perspectives from marginalised voices, from the past or about something that you are curious about?  Read that book.

One of the most inspiring people I’ve met recently makes time for this. An accomplished leader in education, she has a book on her desk about Icelandic Mythology. She makes time to read it in her day because she knows it buoys her creativity, curiosity and strategic capacity.

It will take courage and will to enter unfamiliar new worlds. You think you don’t have time for it. But it’s time well spent, as Gareth Southgate and this football fan knows.