Have you ever wished for more input, insights, and ideas from the employees on your team?
Especially when our businesses are not performing as well as we’d like, we really need our teammates’ creative ideas. But when we gather a group and ask for ideas—whether for new product features, cost reduction ideas, or ways to improve service—we often see the same, recycled thoughts. Or ones that are only a smidgen better than what’s currently being done.
It’s not the employees’ fault. Humans are wired to keep doing what they’ve been rewarded for in the past. We are wired to protect our allies, and to avoid risk. These tendencies tend to hold us back when it comes to thinking in new ways. We are shackled by what’s worked before and have a hard time imagining a new way of doing things.
Here are a few techniques for helping your team break free to develop new ways of thinking about your business. Continue Reading →
When I was sixteen, I went on a 2-week horseback trip in the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming. Each morning, we were given the coordinates of the location where we would camp that night, then turned loose with a map and compass. It was satisfying to arrive at the destination each night, after navigating our way through the mountains on our own.
Heading a new strategic direction—entering a new market, innovating a new product line, or changing the way we go to market—can feel like heading out into the wilderness. If we think like an explorer would, however, we can find our way to new sources of profit and growth.
Here are four points to keep in mind when navigating new strategic territory:
In the past few years, Cisco, Coca-Cola, GE, IBM, MasterCard and other large companies have begun to launch “internal startups”—teams of employees who are sheltered from corporate rules and bureaucracy – to stimulate entrepreneurship and creativity, and infuse agility.
I spoke recently with the leader of a business that existed – for a while – as an internal startup within a large corporation.
The thinking was that employees within this quasi-startup would be free to focus on their goals. Team spirit and collaboration would replace hierarchy. Innovation, risk-taking, and learning from failure would flourish. Time formerly spent on meetings and emails with other corporate groups would be spent focusing on the customer.
When you deal with the same types of customers, buying the same products and using them the same way, every day, it’s easy to be lulled into a smug confidence that you know everything you need to know about how customer needs are evolving.
Market research and management reporting systems are notorious for “averaging” all customers together. This blends specific needs into a bland summary of general information. As a result, critical “outlier” information gets lost in the mix, and companies lose out on valuable insights about customer needs.
They focus product and service enhancements on the “average” customer, and as long as she’s pretty happy, they think they’re doing well.
This is dangerous.
When we ignore the unusual customers – the ones at the edges of the bell curve – we miss important market signals.
These “outlier” customers are those who do things a little differently. They may use our product or service in an unusual way, perhaps even in a way that’s never occurred to us.
When you want to gain insight into emerging customer needs and behaviors, the first solution you might think of is market research. But research can be costly, and it can take weeks to implement and analyze.
Beyond the cost and time required, there are two big problems with market research. Continue Reading →
Are you struggling to make your company more agile?
In my work with organizations in virtually every industry, I find that business agility – the ability to spot and capitalize on new business opportunities as they emerge – is a capability that many companies aspire to, but few achieve.
I recently met with the leaders of a highly successful company. Sales growth, which had been strong for years, was headed into negative territory. They were desperate to find the next “big idea” that would put their company on track for future growth.
As they discussed potential innovations, the same tired, incremental ideas that had been tossed around for years kept resurfacing.
What they needed was something to shake up their thinking.
These managers had been so busy delivering product, serving customers, dealing with people issues, managing the budget and attending meetings, that they had focused all their attention inward. They hadn’t looked outside their industry for new ideas in months, or even years. As a result, their thinking was stale and uninspired.
When you want to develop breakthrough ideas, try looking at companies outside of your industry to fuel new thinking. If you are in healthcare, look at technology or consumer products companies. If you are a services company, look at manufacturers. You get the idea.
Pick one company, and list what’s intriguing, controversial, new or different about it. Be specific about what you observe, and then ask: “How might we apply this idea in our own company?”
An industrial products business, for example, looked at Walmart as an exemplar, even though the two companies are in different industries and are of vastly different size.
The smaller company observed how Walmart has made its store-brand Ol’ Roy dog food the bestselling brand in the world, and decided to explore the idea of offering private-label products. It observed how Walmart has standardized apparel sizes across many different clothing suppliers, and decided to simplify and standardize its product sizes, so customers could more easily specify and buy what they needed.
When I suggested “looking outside your industry” in a blog post a few weeks ago, readers contributed how they had:
Found new ideas for an aerospace company by looking at consumer products technology trends.
Developed a new hotel concept after looking at the consumer and employee experience across brands like Starbucks, Harley Davidson and Quick-Trip.
Applied ideas from investigative journalism to sales training.
Employed GM and Toyota product positioning and pricing ideas within an information services company.
Next time you want to develop new ideas for performance improvement and growth, look at companies in completely different industries than your own. Be specific about what you observe, and then think about the implications for your own company.