How fresh perspectives can help innovation

It’s not every job that gives you the chance to experience life on the other side of the world. When the latest phase of growth at our US office gave me the chance to relocate from the UK to California, it was a great opportunity to immerse myself in a different culture – both professionally and outside work. And, of course, there was better weather!

I’ve been in California for about a month now, so thought it was time to reflect on some ‘first impressions’ of my new home – and the differences between two apparently similar cultures.

Initially, I was blown away by the scale of everything – big cars, big washing machines, big coffee cups, enormous bags of nachos (courtesy of my first visit to Costco)… everything seemed to be supersized. But already it’s seeming normal, with modest UK coffee cups and parking spaces a fading memory.

The abundance of choice here is also staggering – for example, my local supermarket has more than 40 different flavours (or should I say flavors?) of salad dressing, from raspberry walnut vinaigrette to sriracha (I had to Google it) to ‘goddess’ (I’m still not sure). Ironically, given this flavour explosion, “free from” is a term I’ve seen a lot more since I arrived in the US. Often it is shouting at me from food labels about ingredients I’ve not been concerned about before – milk “free from” hormones, bread “free from” high-fructose corn syrup. I’m used to seeing labels like “gluten free” on products in the UK these days. But here I’m seeing in a fresh light how easy it is for a shopper to be confused by the huge amount of information in the supermarket aisle.

I’m slowly getting used to Fahrenheit as a daily measure of temperature, and pounds as a measure of weight (and not using stones). It has made me reflect on how muddled many UK conventions are – litres for fuel (gas) but miles per (imperial) gallon for fuel efficiency; most wine is sold as 75cl, orange juice in litres but most milk and beer in multiples of pints; and quarter-pounder burgers are sold with their weight labelled in grams.

I’ve travelled in the US on business and for pleasure many times. And I spent many months researching this move from my computer. But even with all the preparation, living here this last month has already given me a new outlook. And, despite the challenges in translation, I’ve found the fresh perspective my new home offers hugely refreshing and tremendously inspiring – both professionally and personally. As an innovator, it is a reminder to me of the importance of taking the time to really immerse oneself in a new environment to understand customers and markets. I’d encourage us all to keep seeking these new perspectives.