When the heads of Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon and JP Morgan Chase announced that they would start a new non-profit initiative to find a better healthcare solution for their employees, stocks across major healthcare and insurance companies fell dramatically. And that's before the behemoth triumvirate (with no healthcare experience) even explained how they will do it. But their objective of reducing healthcare's burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families hit home. 

The growing frustration among healthcare customers from the largest enterprises to private individuals about the spiraling costs of healthcare in the US coupled with the complex and inefficient nature of the industry has left it wide open for disruption. And it's a good lesson for any business that doesn't listen to its customers and thinks it might be immune to disruption.

The potential disruption of such a hugely lucrative industry like healthcare (more than $3 trillion) serves as a great reminder of why you should never rest on your laurels no matter how essential you seem to be to your customers. Although it makes sense to watch trends, don't ever consider them as predictions. It only takes one random event, black swan or the sudden emergence of an unimagined competitor like Uber or AirBnB to change an entire market. 

You need to be scanning broadly and looking for changes in customer needs and the competition. For long-term successful growth, companies need to maintain an external focus--they need to think outside-in. 

Outside-in thinking is the ability to look outside the company, understand what is happening and what it means for the business, and take appropriate action on a timely basis.

Customer frustrations with the healthcare industry have sky-rocketed in recent years yet industry leaders were either not listening or unable to affect any significant change leaving the industry open to disruption.

Make it a priority to build outside-in thinking and customer-aligned innovation to fuel your growth. To achieve mastery of these two capabilities, you need to put in place a few routines that work for your business. Here are five simple ways to put outside-in thinking to work in your business that I've seen work:

1. Spend face-time with customers.

Regularly put time in your own calendar to interact with customers and require your senior team to do it. There is nothing more valuable than first hand coal-face customer experience to give you a sense

2. Make serving your customer part of your on-boarding process.

This builds empathy and motivates employees to make their customer's life better. Yum Brands, the parent of KFC, Pizzahut and Tacobell, do a great job of keeping the customer at the centre of their hiring and onboarding process. 

3. Integrate research data from customers into routine meetings.

How many companies invest time and money on customer research but then the data goes underutilized. It gets cleaned up and fed back to a small number of people in marketing, then further sanitized and fed back to more senior leadership. Sometimes the research firms have more connection with the customers than the company does!

Ask to see the raw data alongside the reports to deter any temptation to sanitize it. You won't be able to go through it all but getting team members to do targeted deep dives into specific areas can help you gain valuable insights.  

4. Hold an open house

Set up a customer council, invite customers to leadership dialogues, learn together through shared training, or even customers to work alongside you in design centers. Invite outsiders to help with innovation like students or experts from other industries. This will help you get a better sense of their needs and help foster cross-thinking and innovation. 

5. Experiment together

Run small experiments to trial new products with real customers. It's a great way to see if product and service innovations make sense. Whether you are beta testing the latest healthcare technology product, an app or shampoo you will get to see how you customer react and interact with your product firsthand.