Ever wonder what’s behind true innovation? Or what gives some businesses a creative edge?
It has a lot to do with the company or individual’s ability to connect seemingly unrelated things, or to take inspiration from one place or thing and apply it to something else.
When Southwest Airlines became a company, they didn’t compare themselves to other airlines, they measured themselves against the true competitors of a discount airline: trains and buses.
Virgin Airlines didn’t try to do things like the other airlines either; they took their inspiration from film makers and created fun, innovative safety videos, in addition to looking at other industries for clues on how to make selling tickets better and the whole experience different.
Making a fun safety video seems obvious now, but in the early 2000’s it was revolutionary. This is how innovation happens.
You don’t need an idea that has never been thought up before; you simply need to combine a few seemingly unrelated things, and see what the new combination produces. Can you look to a different industry and borrow their glasses for a minute, to see the world through a different lens?
Borrowing ideas from other industries does not mean that you should take all that you find and apply it to yourself. It just means that you pay attention to other ways of telling the same story. If most of your industry is showing things in the same way, how can you improve on this? Can you learn something from the hotel + hospitality industry and apply this to your customer service experience? Can you look to the film industry and find a playful way to turn the tables on a topic that is typically kind of dull, like Virgin did?
When we can inject something interesting into places people expect to be boring, we add value and become memorable.
For someone to remember us, we need to be a little different. Building a business that’s just like all the other _____________ (insert your industry here) will never be memorable, so the ability to see beyond ordinary solutions is key.
Being different and staying relatable is a balancing act. You never want to be so typical that you’re boring or mundane, but swinging too far the other way where you’re so different no one gets you are both less than ideal. The key is to reach people, but in a different or innovative way.
What you find beyond your normal scope of practice may surprise you. It surprises me on pretty much a daily basis.
Judging where inspiration will come from is a good way to miss most of it. If we keep our eyes and minds open, inspiration can tap us on the shoulder at any moment. I’ll often go collect an arm full of magazines that range from Dwell to Purple to Communication Arts to Outside Magazine to Nylon to National Geographic and let all the images, words and stories soak into my imagination.
The cross-pollination of ideas leads to creative solutions and innovation. Sometimes our best ideas come along the second we turn out attention away from what’s right in front of us.
A great example of creating uniqueness by seeing through a different lens is Collage Collage. Artist + founder Erin Boniferro had a vision of a shop + school that melded art + design. By taking ordinary objects used by the children and adults in her art classes and giving them a place that was more akin to a beautiful fine art object than to a simple googley eye or pipe cleaner, Erin was able to craft a unique brand platform that set her apart from her competition.
In any given industry there will usually be a set of norms – words, layouts or styles that you see over and over again. It’s important to know the common phrases and subtleties of your industry, but looking like everyone else isn’t going to set you apart. Taking a step back and asking yourself where you can inject a little bit of unexpected magic into a typical customer experience is key. Find out what people don’t care much about, get annoyed by, or just simply tune out – like the airline safety video, and make it remarkable.
Until next time,