Have you read the book, Made To Last?
It’s from Jim Collins, the writer of a full series of business books. They’re all wonderful especially if you’re looking to build a successful business from any point in its history.
One of the lessons in Built To Last is that change happens in any business. Well, other than core values and core purpose, anything is up for change. And if you don’t change then the world around your business will and you’ll be left behind.
One of the shining stars of the book is 3M, which is a company headquartered not far from where I live. I really don’t know much about the company, but after reading the book it’s clear that Collins and his team are very fond of the business and how they’ve been able to come up with all kinds of innovative products.
3M has setup innovation has part of its core and they have processes in place to encourage innovation. They don’t just talk about it. The processes make sure that innovation happens. Employees are required to spend 15% of their time experimenting. There are no rules. Marketing is not allowed to get involved in the experimenting phase. It’s pure discovery.
That got me thinking about the power of change.
How can your business be open to change and new opportunity? Where can you find inspiration?
Here are some ideas…
One thing 3M did was to build a culture around the idea that any client problem could be a potential business opportunity. The company hired people that were naturally curious and observant. If any 3Mer heard a client express a problem about anything they would take note and it may drive their innovative spirit.
If you already have clients it’s a great place to start when looking for opportunities. Call your clients up and just ask for a little of their time to just shoot the breeze. Ask them about their business. Ask what’s been changing recently. What are they struggling with? See if you can read between the lines to figure out their real problems.
Then get to work on finding the solution.
2. Website Lurkers
I got this idea from Conversion Rate Experts. They work on conversion rate improve for all kinds of businesses and one of the techniques they use to improve business websites is to survey website visitors.
But they don’t just survey any website visitor. They look at the ones that leave. They looks at the ones that don’t purchase or that get stuck somewhere on the site.
You can look at website lurkers, those that visit your site, but that don’t act, and get some good insight.
Place surveys on certain pages on your site and ask a few questions to these visitors. Ask them what they need that they aren’t getting. Ask them what they’re struggling with. Also ask them who they are.
3M is great at encouraging employees to work on innovation. This is part of the reason that 3M has brought products like Post-It notes to market with great success. 3M had no plan to create a Post-It note, but they allowed employees to bring ideas to the table.
Your employees have great ideas. They work with customers everyday. Employees are the source of great opportunity, but the key is you have to listen. You have to create systems like regular meetings or one-on-ones where you discuss ideas and observations.
Some of the most successful companies of the last several years are the ones that experiment or that do a lot of little things. They know that when it comes to experimentation, quantity is better than quality. You don’t bet the farm on experiments. Most will fail. But you want to have experimentation on all kinds of ideas because nobody can predict what will prove to be a big opportunity.
5. Other Industries
Some of the best business ideas come from looking outside of your industry. We’ll talk about the competition and your own industry in a bit, but I think it’s more important to look at other industries.
Often, companies and individuals in other industries are using technology and ideas that are innovative for their industry and that aren’t being used in your industry.
Look for things that exist in other areas of life and challenge yourself to experiment with ways those things could have a positive impact on what your business does.
I’m not saying that your company necessarily changes industries. You just bring innovative ideas from other industries into your industry.
For example, Henry Ford was inspired by the flour, beer and cannery industries to create his famous moving assembly line.
6. Young People
Young people are always looking for ways to branch out from previous generations. Long-time music executives are usually great at observing youth movements and bringing in fresh ideas.
Pay attention to the young people in your life and in your company and see what is interesting to them. See what innovative ideas they have. Obviously not all or even most ideas will be good ones, but you may only need one to take your business to new heights.
We talked about customer problems, but create systems in your business where you and your team look for problems throughout your lives. Figure out ways to observe life around you including the people you see everyday. It could be someone walking on the street, at the coffee shop or even within your own company.
Don’t judge a problem because of its apparent size or scope or anything like that. Even small problems can become big business ideas.
The trick is that people often don’t even realize they have a problem and so they don’t express. You kind of have to read between the lines to see if someone is struggling with something.
8. Science + Technology
I was never big into science growing up. It was just not a subject I connected with. Learning about physics and chemistry and all of it was just never my thing.
But these days I’m looking at science and technology in a new light. There are incredible innovations coming out seemingly everyday. The discoveries aren’t necessarily business related or anything like that, but I’ve come to learn that’s it’s good to observe what’s going on in the science world because new discoveries could lead to opportunities to change your business for the better.
This one is one of my favorites. Some great business innovation or innovation in general has come from observing nature. Here are some examples including how one person observed how burrs stuck to dog fur and discovered the idea for Velcro.
The natural world around us is the result of millions of years of evolution. That’s a wealth of information and fine tuning that we can use and replicate for a variety of reasons.
This one comes with an asterisk because if you’re looking too much at the competition you can fall into the trap of copying them and playing catchup. That’s not where you want to be.
However, you do want to see what the competition is doing. If they come up with a great idea then it’s your job to see how you can take a leap way beyond what they have been doing. Don’t just catchup.
In life, change is inevitable. It’s unavoidable. That’s a challenge because I think most of us are naturally drawn to look for comfort in life. But if we get comfortable we can get left behind. So maybe comfort is really found in accepting and looking for change in life. Hopefully the ideas above can spark some inspiration for you to setup systems in your business to look for and embrace new ideas and opportunities.