Explore a Seemingly Unrelated Industry for a Day
BY Jeff Hoffman
Where will you find your next powerful idea? It might just be when you take a close look at a different business.
You never see bankers at a medical conference. Or teachers poking around the construction industry. After all, what could bankers learn from treating patients, or teachers from construction sites? But the answer is plenty.
I speak about innovation at conferences for every industry. And I see the same faces, sorted into their industry silos, talking to the same people about the same problems and solutions every time. Similarly, when I visit companies, I see health care people knee-deep in health care problems, their noses buried in health care books. I see accountants up to their shirt sleeves in Quicken, studying GAAP principles. The consultants read The McKinsey Way. You get the idea. This is what these folks get paid for, after all.
But they're all missing something. Something big. Despite the fact that each industry has its own unique obstacles, there are many problems which are common to all industries. Without taking a moment to peek over the fence from time to time, powerful new ideas, milestones in innovation, or breakthroughs in efficiency can easily slip by unnoticed. For example, a customer service issue in a health care company could be solved by a major new customer service strategy from the retail industry. If it's brilliant, innovative, and solves problems for customers, who cares what industry it came from?
Years ago, I read a story about a fast food industry executive who was going cross-eyed staring at the same problems every day. In exasperation, he decided to clear his mind and go driving around to look at banks, just to see what innovations might be happening in the banking industry. And he discovered an amazing thing. It was called a drive-thru window. And it was a great idea! He couldn't wait to get back to his office to bring the concept to fast food. Can you imagine a fast food chain today without a drive thru?
Think about it. When was the last time you left your industry for a day to go explore another, seemingly unrelated one? Have you ever done that? Probably not. Most people don't. Logically it never made sense for you as a banker to go to health care conferences and read health care magazines. But you just might be missing the next big innovation. Because it came from outside your comfort zone.
So here's my challenge to you. Get out of your comfort zone. Go wander the trade show floor at a conference in another industry. Go read a trade magazine to see how other businesses are addressing their customer service problems, and see if they could apply to you. Go online and Google the problem you are working on, but try it a few times with a different industry name appended to your search.
Yes, some of the problems we face are unique to our own industries. But the world is becoming a smaller place, technology is becoming more ubiquitous, and our customers are becoming more demanding. So maybe it's time to look around and see how everyone else is handling this.
And the first time I see a doctor with a stethoscope walking through the mall taking notes, I'll know you're listening.
JEFF HOFFMAN, co-founder of ColorJar, is a serial entrepreneur who was on the founding teams of Priceline.com and uBid.com. He is also a frequent public speaker on the topics of innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership. @SpeakerJeff