Your Next Great Innovation for Your Business Might Come From Another Industry
One of my major early obstacles as an entrepreneur starting hint was shelf life. In addition to not wanting to add sweeteners, I also did not want to add preservatives to our flavored waters. But, that is what everyone in the "drinks industry" does to get the long shelf life required by the retailers.
Though we wanted the sales, ditching the unique selling point of our products wasn't the answer. After a number of failed experiments, I heard about the flash pasteurization technique used in the juice industry. As we also use fruit, I thought that this process was a possible solution that would allow our products to have a shelf life like many other beverages in order to stay competitive.
This experience taught me that it is always worth paying attention to what's happening in other sectors. Just like these five businesses that successfully learned from industries outside their own.
1. Bringing design to technology users
Apple has long been associated with bringing design thinking to the computer industry. But, perhaps even more significant is how the company revolutionized the user experience of portable music players. Early MP3 players were like a more functional Walkman. The iPod changed everything. It was beautiful, had an innovative yet intuitive interface and came with stylish headphones.
By introducing a more design-led and user-focused approach to the music player industry, Apple also laid the groundwork for its transformation of the mobile phone market.
2. Using data to predict hits
Which movies or TV shows make it to our screens is often down to the taste of an individual studio executive. Netflix disrupted the entertainment industry by bringing the science of data to artistic decision-making. When offered House of Cards as its first major production, Netflix checked the numbers. They showed that users loved the original BBC series, as well as movies starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher, suggesting a ready-made audience for the new show.
While creativity is a still an important factor, Netflix's pioneering use of data in determining where to best invest their production dollars has delivered a string of hits.
3. Finding marketing inspiration at a theme park
Burrow is changing the furniture market with its affordable, high-quality couches. The company maintains low prices by not having expensive real-world retail outlets. You can only buy Burrow products online. Yet people living in cities -- a major target audience for the business -- love window shopping. When Burrow CEO Stephen Kuhl visited Harry Potter World, the theme park's interactive window displays inspired a way of filling his company's marketing gap.
Burrow rented empty New York City storefronts and installed animatronic characters lazing on the company's sofas. Passers-by could interact with these characters by text, creating a fresh buzz about the brand and reaching new audiences. All it needed was a pinch of theme park magic.
4. Adopting a pit crew approach to health care
Medical teams only have seconds to save the life of a premature baby that needs resuscitation. To ensure they were making the most efficient use of this brief time, some doctors and nurses in the U.K. studied Formula 1 motor-racing. The sport's best pit crews change all four tires on a car in just two seconds, often the difference between winning and losing a race. The healthcare teams noticed how each individual in the pit crew has a clearly defined role, as well as the importance of working in a dedicated space that doesn't have unnecessary equipment getting in the way.
Though motor racing and childbirth are unrelated activities, watching a pit crew in action helped these medical teams move faster and save more lives.
5. Letting the clowns take control
Eyewear brand Warby Parker has a successful workplace program that allows the company's engineers to decide which projects they want to work on. The program creates more engaged and productive employees and leads to the development of ideas that deliver better results. The increase in this kind of employee-led prioritization is often inspired by a research paper on Cirque de Soleil, which showed that circus performers were better than the company's managers at choosing the most popular new acts.
Perhaps people on the front lines have better insight into what will work with audiences and customers. Or maybe that simply empowering them increases their motivation. Either way, letting the clowns pick your priorities can put a smile on everyone's face.
Time to re-apply.
My belief in the power of learning from other sectors is strong. My own business has benefited from internal cross-industry inspiration. After seeing what we could do with putting fruit in water in order to make water more enjoyable with hint water, we applied that idea to skincare and recently launched hint sunscreen.
When you're curious about other industries and keep an open mind, you'll be surprised at how you can re-apply new ideas and technique to your world.