When McKinsey client CEOs are asked why they value McKinsey, the word “perspective” comes up a lot.

While I remember hearing those words regularly as a consultant, I’ve more recently come to appreciate what those CEOs meant. Perspective is looking at the same information everyone else is looking at, but seeing a different picture than others.

This is why interviewers value “insights” in the case interview. Insights are simply bite-size chunks of perspective.

I’ll give you a simple example of perspective. It’s an insight that I shared with a few thousand CEOs during the 2008 to 2009 Great Recession.

At the time, the economy shrank suddenly and drastically — similar to this past year, but not as severe.

Many CEOs told me, “Our prospects tell us that our product is clearly far superior to our competitors’, yet the prospects don’t buy. What do we do? What else can we do other than be better than our competitors?”

Here’s what I said: 

The problem is your definitional concept of the word “competitor.” You’re seeing a competitor as another company that does what you do. 

Instead of using the word “competitor” in your thinking, replace that concept with the following phrase:

“Any other alternative to buying from us, which includes maintaining the status quo (e.g., doing nothing).”

Let me use this phrase in a sentence to illustrate my point.

The old way of thinking:

“We are better than our competitors, so we should be winning sales.”

The new way of thinking:

“We are better than any other alternative to buying from us, which includes maintaining the status quo (e.g., doing nothing).”

I told these CEOs, “You aren’t losing to your traditional direct competitors” — which they confirmed to be true. “You’re losing to the idea that the safest decision for the prospect is to buy from… nobody.”

“You’re losing to the status quo.”

“If the prospect were to buy, they would buy from you over other suppliers in your product category. However, they’ve decided to not buy from anybody.”

It turns out that all of their sales and marketing materials were geared toward the message, “why buy from us vs. another direct competitor.”

They were so good at this that all of their prospects were fully convinced.

However, none of the sales team’s presentations or messages were geared toward why the prospect should buy from the company now as opposed to later.

When I explained this to the CEOs in my audience, the light bulbs went on. In the span of a few moments, they realized their mistake.

That is perspective.

Suddenly, it was obvious what they needed to do.

How you see the world influences how you think about the world, which influences how you act in the world.

If you want to change yourself, you need to change how you see things (e.g., perspective).

If you want to change someone else, you want to try to help them see things differently.

Once anyone sees something differently, they automatically think differently. And if they think differently, they automatically act differently.

The single most effective way to get someone else to see differently is to first see a situation from someone else’s perspective.

If you want to be a phenomenal salesperson, learn to see the marketplace from your prospects’ point of view.

If you want to be a good spouse, learn to see your marriage from your spouse’s perspective.

As the late Stephen Covey wrote in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — a book I first read when I was 16 years old — “Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”

It’s all about perspective.

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