Beth Comstock: External Connection

As you reflect back on your career, what were the things you did that allowed you to stay externally connected, and to be able to anticipate where things were going? It’s easy to get back to the day to day grind where you’re not putting yourself out there.

Beth: Actually these days -- I left GE about a year ago -- I’m on a little bit of an anti-optimization kick. If we had met in 2017, I’d say, “How are you doing? What are you up to?” But then I’d say things like “What are your productivity tips? How are you getting more out of your day?” And I realized how addictive that is, yet I felt like my path in the company was twofold. One was to be this outsider on the inside. Most of you here hopefully identify with this role -- the one that’s always finding trends and seeing the change early. The other happened when I put myself out there.

“Make room for discovery” became my mantra.
In the early days, I had to learn was that it wasn’t enough to just get out there. Maybe some of you recognize this, but you might go out, and before you know it, you’re the one chasing this shiny new thing. You turn into a bit of a know it all and people stop listening to you. So I realized I had to bring in outsiders to spark perspective.

From there it grew into an organized field trip where we’d do the discovering serendipity together. It could be something as simple as a Friday field trip with the team to look at a new retail concept. Or, it could be something more organized. I remember taking a group of top tier executives to Israel and made them sleep for two weeks in military barracks to learn about non-hierarchical learning. I could have just told them, I could have brought in an Israeli general, but until they saw it, they weren’t going to change.

Over time, I realized my job was to maintain this balance of outside/inside, but to create a surround sound of change. Everybody had to find their own way there, and I had to force them to discover because no one wants to do this. They think it’s frivolous, or that they don’t have time for it. So I’d say, “I guarantee you have 10 % of your time that’s wasted on stuff you already know the answer to, in meetings you already know the outcome. Just checking, checking, checking, checkers. Can you take that 10% and turn it into discovery and to figuring out what’s new and next?” That became a bit of a counterargument I leveraged. I guarantee you have 10% of your time wasted. Let’s take that and go discover.

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