Look Outside Your Industry For Ideas That Work

Have you ever listened to The Sauce, a three-part podcast from McDonald's? The world's largest fast-food chain modeled its podcast in the style of Serial, a podcast series launched in 2014 that quickly went viral, amassing a huge following and revolutionizing the traditional podcast format. The Sauce ended up being a hit in the world of branded podcasts, landing a spot on the iTunes' top-100 podcast chart.

If McDonald's had not taken a chance and borrowed an idea from an unexpected source, it probably never would have achieved this success with its podcast. Jason Wingard, a dean and professor at Columbia University, says leaders should never hesitate to borrow ideas and strategies from other industries. We share his best practices for doing so in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

Broadly define the challenge. When leaders are determining which external industries to consult for ideas, it is first essential to broadly define the challenge at hand. What problem are you trying to solve? Wingard says an illustrative example comes from the analogous industries of aviation and NASCAR. When United Airlines determined one of its challenges was increasing the speed and efficiency of its ground operations, it sought out a group of individuals who addressed that issue every day: race car pit crews. United sent its ground leaders to pit crew training in 2007, and again in 2019 — a decision that resulted in significant time savings (and more airplanes in the sky).

Utilize existing frameworks. Wingard says another advantage of borrowing from other industries is it creates an initial layer upon which businesses can build and adjust. By using existing frameworks from external companies and industries, leaders can give their teams a head start in the construction of that foundation. Rather than starting from scratch, study trends and other best practices in differing fields. Then take what you've learned and try applying those ideas to your own business.

Strive for simplicity. When pursuing innovation, whether on a small or grand scale, leaders should avoid the temptation of overcomplication. Wingard gives the example of Henry Ford and the auto assembly line. In the early 1900s, when Ford Motor Co. needed to increase production rates for the Model-T, it sought inspiration from an unlikely source: meatpacking plants. It applied the concept of assembling and disassembling parts along a moving conveyor belt to its automotive operations— a straightforward, borrowed production technique that, according to PBS, "allowed Ford to thrive."

Many professionals first turn their attention inward to what they know best: their industry, business, clients and competitors. However, when you're looking to innovate, try looking beyond the promotional products industry. Some of the world's most iconic brands have found tremendous success by borrowing best practices from other industries. The same is possible for your organization, too.

Source: Jason Wingard is a dean and professor of the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University. His books include Learning to Succeed: Rethinking Corporate Education in a World of Unrelenting Change and Learning for Life: How Continuous Education Will Keep Us Competitive in the Global Knowledge Economy.

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