This is easier said than done. As a marketer, I used to have great difficulty in going out to explore. I was endlessly promising myself that I would go out to observe the customers; observe and learn in order to sense the right vibe. Long before I had children of my own, I was working as a marketer for a confectionary company and had every intention to visit school grounds for observation. Instead, I kept thinking up business excuses, meetings and emails to ‘escape’ from doing so. Finally one Wednesday afternoon, three product managers and I actually took the leap and went on our ‘marketing outing’ to watch Disney’s Aladdin at a cinema with hundreds of screaming children. While the children were watching the movie, we were watching them. (Also read: You Are Not Lagging Behind In Life; There Is A Right Time For Everything)
I can imagine that you think you hardly have time for this in your job, but I do not have any sympathy for that. As an innovator, it is crucial to take off your blinders and the ones of your organization. You can only break through patterns in the market if you break through your own patterns: if you can’t change, how can you expect it from others? So, get up and get out there! The innovation magic often happens outside your own personal comfort zone. Start wondering again and ask yourself the questions you haven’t asked yourself for a long time. This is the way to challenge the status quo in the sector of your expertise.
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
In practice, a lot of people who start innovation begin exploring close to home on safe ground. But unfortunately the easy way won’t bring you a lot of new insights. Like Andre Gide, a French writer said, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Products and services in your own industry from you and your competitors are often look-a-likes, as they are shaped by a common mindset where one copies the other. To break your pattern, scrutinizing trends and next practices in other sectors is quite refreshing. It is an excellent way to broaden your mind and spark creativity. Ramon Vullings & Marc Heleven challenge innovators in their book on cross-industry innovation to learn from other sectors [i]:
· What can a hospital learn from a hotel?
· What can a car manufacturer learn from the video game industry?
· What can a chemical company learn from a festival organizer?
Bear in mind that you learn the most from people and sectors who differ the most from you.