Too many entrepreneurs put their best creative thinking into the startup idea, and believe that the business implementation simply requires following tried and true business practices. In my experience as a startup advisor, nothing could be further from the truth. To win, you need to think outside the box to deliver a better customer experience, business model, and new positioning.
It isn’t something that comes naturally to most business people. They are trained in school, and by many experts, that running a business requires logical workflows and analytical thinking. It takes extra effort and focus on some special techniques, including the following, to get the edge you need over your competitors in customer attraction and retention:
Set order-of-magnitude goals. If your goals can’t be achieved by conventional thinking, your brain and the people around you will more likely revert to out-of-the box ideas. Successful entrepreneurs call these paradigm shifts or disruptive technologies, where new solutions cause unanticipated opportunities.
Challenge your team to focus first on quantity of ideas, not quality. This is the essence of brainstorming and ideation. Ideas from the edge often don’t look good at first glance, but need time to evolve into full-blown creative solutions. Even bad ideas often have a nugget of potential that can be transformed into one of your best alternatives.
Offer incentives or competition. There is nothing like friendly competition or an attractive reward to bring out a new base of un-edited ideas. This approach works best if you make it a quick effort. There is a good possibility that one of these will evolve to be the gem you need to grow your business.
Search for recognizable patterns in disconnected domains. Out of the box thinkers get new ideas by comparing unrelated subjects, such as customers and investors. I find that startups rarely think of customers as investors, even though major customers might see ROI as a positive reason to invest in future growth, and chose to pay for equity.
Explore contradictory approaches. This forces you to change the way you look at alternatives, and suddenly the alternatives you look at change. For example, the old assumption that lower prices will drive volumes, may give way to higher prices and exclusivity implying more value to discerning customers.
Change the way you talk, and your thinking will follow suit. When you make a conscious effort to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, your creative mindset will push the positive limits, rather than get stuck on worst case scenarios. Almost all alternatives have pluses as well as risks, so push the limits on the positive side.
Challenge the outer limits of alternatives. With the pace of change today, it makes more sense to plan for obsoleting a product line with a new alternative well before profits go to zero. “New” companies, like Uber, can build billion dollar valuations, and start acquiring older companies seen as much larger.
It’s important that you apply these initiatives to all elements of your business, rather than just on new products to sell. If your imagination is primarily technical by nature, then you need to complement your efforts by attracting partners with more imagination in marketing, sales, finance, and operations. A successful business is a combination of creative ideas in all these disciplines.
You can’t “will” a certain number of creative ideas, but you can certainly measure how many have been implemented in your business recently, and measure what worked and what didn’t work. If you can’t name some new ones in the works right now, your business, or your career, is likely falling behind the competition. Start thinking outside the box.
*** First published on Inc.com on 11/17/2016 ***