One of the things I love about being involved with the customer experience profession is the vast variety of perspectives you’re presented with each and every day. And the opportunities to build and flex your creative muscle.

Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap recently published an article in the Harvard Business Review (2015) titled ‘How to Build Your Network’. In this article they talk of the self-similarity and proximity principles as influencing your creative and innovative opportunity.

The self-similarity principle

The self-similarity principle says that you hang out with people who are similar to you with regards experience, views on life, interests and given you are similar you typically support each other’s views. Exemplars of this principle can typically be spotted wearing the same type of clothes, practicing similar cultural activities or attending the same events.

The danger with this form of ‘network’ is that it can become inbred – for example. as a sport tragic I could spend hours talking sport with people who are just as tragic. But my saving grace is that I’m also a ‘random topic’ tragic and could spend hours talking about any random topic – for example, the latest architecture or advances in modern medicine (such as the current use of spider webs to repair knee cartilage).

I remember once talking with a person I met at a party and who installed air vents. I was intrigued to the point that 35 minutes later he finished talking about air vents … definitely brought a new perspective to air vents.

The Proximity Principle

Complementing the self-similarity principle is the proximity principle, which puts forward the concept that people prefer to hang out with the people they spend the most time with.

In a work context this can be seen by people with the same training, experience and roles being grouped in the same department. Challenging this ‘norm’ often leads to new insights – for example, how often do we hear the story of the CEO who spent time on the floor and everyone was rocked by the insights it generated.
Flexing our creative muscle

Frontline customer service challenges both the self-similarity and proximity principles because you are never quite in control of who will be ‘coming through the door’. Will they be from a different or similar network? Will they have similar interests or will they even like wearing the same clothes I like?

By not being able to follow our natural tendencies and have a filtering mechanism that could implement the self-similarity and proximity principles Service staff are often thrust into interesting, unusual and sometimes challenging situations. And by embracing each of these situations as an opportunity to learn we are enriching and building our creative muscle. A muscle we can then flex with repertoire when managing the diversity that are customer experiences.