Steal With Glee

Greetings from Peru! I am here leading a Purpose Project and two elements have dawned on me: Purpose without Passion is meaningless & beginning may be half done; yet without an ability to learn from others, Passion can fizzle. Last week we introduced the notion of looking outside your industry for solutions for your current problems – where you look shapes what you see. It is the art of identifying situations or events that in some way mirror the creative challenge that you face right now. You probably wont want to steal their ideas or experiences directly, but the principles of another’s approach can be identified and applied to your own challenge. 

This is what management guru Tom Peters means when he refers to business people ‘stealing with glee’. It is the very opposite of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome. It means deliberately encouraging people to go out and see what they can learn from others. The creative act occurs when you reapply this to your own challenge in a unique way. 

The roll on deodorant is exactly this principle in action. The steal was to look at the ballpoint pen and apply the same principles to deodorant – another world where a liquid had to be spread equally thinly across a surface. All you have to do is ask, “Where in the world has my challenge been faced before? What can I learn and steal from that?

Last week in where you look shapes what you see we showed how a hospital learnt from the bastions of creativity in Toyota. This week it is Toyota’s turn to learn from a creative master. It is fitting that Toyota has been such an eye-opening teacher for aspiring innovators from the health-care industry, because Toyota has been such an eagle-eyed student of innovation in industries beyond automobiles. The company has always understood the power of looking for proven ideas in new fields, which helps to explain why it has remained such a powerful presence in its own field.

Consider, for example, how it launched Lexus, the game-changing entrant in one of the world’s most competitive business arenas – the market for luxury automobiles. “Our customers don’t compare us to other car brands,”argues David Nordstrom, vice president at Lexus. “They compare us to other luxury brands. You have a certain experience with Tiffany or the Four Seasons. That’s the experience you expect at Lexus. People don’t say, ‘Well, this is the car business, so our expectations should be different.’ Customers are looking for companies whose beliefs align with theirs.”

That’s why, over the years, Lexus has gone to school on how different companies operate. For instance, Lexus has often quoted the influence on how Apple’s Genius Bar interact with its customers. Staff at Apple are inundated with all sorts of questions (some advanced, some dumb) and yet the Genius Bar provide answers in a smart, friendly manner always. So dealers put their own spin on Genius Bars with so called Answer Bars. Employee teach Lexus owners to program their Bluetooth phones, use their hard-to-navigate navigation systems, and, in general, tap into the powerful (but confusing) technology built into their vehicles. Genius. 

For Lexus the value in searching for ideas in unrelated fields isn’t just about copying what works. It’s about changing mind-sets, standards and expectations. In ‘The Innovation Killer’, Cynthia Barton Rabe, a former innovation strategist at Intel, explains how “what we know limits what we can imagine.”Many organisations, struggle with a ‘paradox of expertise’ in which deep knowledge of what exists in a marketplace or a product category makes it harder to consider what-if strategies that challenge long-held assumptions. Rabe states “when it comes to innovation, the same hard-won experience, best practice, and processes that are the cornerstones of an organisations success may be more like millstones that thereafter to sink it.”

To apply the technique start by considering, ‘What am I trying to do or achieve?’ Write this as short summary in the middle of a circle with a set of spokes coming from it. Now invest some time in thinking where else this issue has been encountered. In the following example from the world of Virgin you can see how they came to using symbols to convey complex information in store. 

There’s magic in cross-pollination and in the people who make it happen. Next week we will look at some of these people.

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