You know that old adage that the most creative concepts come to you in the shower? It’s because you’re not hampered by looming deadlines or the feeling that your colleagues are peering over your shoulder. Your mind is free to wander, and you in turn are able to access a whole new set of ideas.
The same principle applies when you turn outside your industry for fresh ideas. Without the pressures of adhering to industry standards, you’re afforded a freedom to innovate. It’s for this very reason that looking beyond your field may allow you to solve problems that stumped you before.
Look to New Fields to Solve Analogous Issues
In a study written up in the Harvard Business Review, Professor Marion Poetz and her colleagues demonstrate the effectiveness of turning to those in distinct industries with similar issues to find radical new ideas. Poetz approached groups of roofers, carpenters, and inline skaters. At first glance these fields seem unrelated, but the challenge they share is in getting folks to wear uncomfortable safety gear. She asked them to consider what changes they could make to gear in each other’s groups to encourage adherence to safety standards.
They found that when assessing carpenter’s respirator masks, it was the skaters who proposed the most novel innovations. Unaware of carpentry industry expectations or existing respirator technology, the skaters were able to create solutions that were better and bolder than what the experts could come up with. They also brought knowledge of skating safety technology to the table, which resulted in truly unique ideas for respirators.
When considering how to apply this study to your own work, ask yourself: what other industries face similar problems? For example, who else has been disrupted by Amazon? Or is confronted with trouble converting traffic to sales? Or has a hard time recruiting good sales people? Then find professionals in that space and arrange a workshop to problem solve with one another.
Learn Lessons in Disruption Before It’s Too Late
The hotel industry encountered it with Airbnb. The taxi and black car industry faced it with Uber. The music industry experienced it with Spotify. Everywhere you look, industries are being disrupted. Each of these companies provided a service that was more convenient than the tried and true methods. Their doing so completely changed the game, for both their users and competitors.
If you’re worried about how susceptible your own field is, take a look at the Disruptability Index from Accenture. By placing different industries on axes representing current disruption and potential for future disruption, they give business leaders a way to frame their thinking about how to ensure growth and stability for their companies.
Consider using this index as a way to strategically reach out to leaders in other industries. If you work in an industry like banking, which Accenture labels as being in a vulnerability state (low disruption now, but with a high likelihood of future disruption), get in touch with those who work in utilities or healthcare–two other industries labeled as vulnerable–and share ideas about what each of you are doing to stay ahead of the curve. Or speak with someone in infrastructure or communications, fields that have already experienced great disruption, to learn from their mistakes.
Turn a Whole New Page
Marketing expert Jay Abraham is known for thinking outside the box and delivering great results for his clients. One of his techniques is to attend used book sales at libraries and then ask his clients to do some reading on a topic that’s completely unrelated to their business. When someone developing an online marketplace app reads a few chapters about urban farming, they just may glean new business ideas from that completely unrelated topic that they otherwise never would have encountered.
In advance of your next management offsite, make a trip to the local used bookstore. Pick out some books on a wide assortment of topics, and ask everyone to read a chapter or two. Afterwards, regroup and share one novel idea you encountered that can strengthen your business.
Let Creative Passions Drive Business Innovations
After attending a Paul McCartney concert a few years back, I got to thinking about how each member of the Beatles’ interests outside of the band spurred their creativity within the group. With influences as diverse as McCartney’s love of poetry and Harrison’s passion for non-Western music, The Beatles were able to create a unique sound that resonated with their fans. Feeding their passions outside of the work of songwriting, recording, and performing allowed them to bring innovative new ideas to the table.
There are lots of ways to tap into your interests outside of work. In Newton, MA, where I live, we have Newton Continuing Education. Many cities offer programs that allow you to explore new ways of thinking, from community centers that offer classes in dance or pottery making, to local colleges with extension schools or online programs. Consider using these resources to expand your mind and maybe even learn something about your business in the process.
Do you have a story about an important business lesson you learned by watching another industry? I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me a line.
How Sterling Woods Can Help
The Sterling Woods Group teaches clients our five forces to methodically make more money online. The goal: make sure you lock in double-digit growth year after year using the power of digital media. Many companies have experienced over 50% growth using our system. Beyond the financial benefits, clients tell us that – for the first time in years – they feel truly focused.
We offer workshops, coaching, and keynote speeches. Sterling Woods is also an agency that launches new digital initiatives, so clients don’t have to add overhead. Our agency business model is unique in that most of our fees are based on performance.
About the Author
Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of Sterling Woods, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. He started his career as a consultant at McKinsey. Ristagno holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.
Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors: A Proven Method for Making More Money Online, set to be published in 2018. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.