Recently, my friend Jackie Hutter and I did a workshop on Leading Indicators for Innovation from two aspects: 1) how can you look around you for leading indicators of areas ripe for innovation; and 2) what are leading indicators in your innovation process itself.
Both are important, the first is more ‘fun’ so we’ll discuss it first and save the 2nd for another post. Jackie coined the phrase, “Lens Shifting” which made me thing of this:
These guys are all working on the same physical plane, but for one it’s flat, for another uphill and for another downhill. It depends where you’re standing. They are all on the same physical plane, but they all have different viewpoints. We view things from our own perspectives and biases.
Why are some people so good at understanding, and leading, future trends, behavior? Think Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett. How do they stay cutting edge year after year? Well, they seem to view the world differently, to ‘Lens Shift’. They are curious about the world, life, work; they’re open-minded; they set their minds on an idea and go for it, even creating the trend itself; they’re confident in their ideas and act; they don’t care about being different, not conforming. Some say they’re ‘fearless’ and ‘risk takers’ – perhaps, or perhaps they define fear and risk differently – risk = status quo, not the undefined opportunity. Mainly, they exhibit connectedness – in terms of people (social network & capital) and the ability to connect things together, to see patterns and relationships that most don’t see.
Before my oldest child started crawling, I crawled around the house to ‘baby-proof’ it. Wow! What a totally different perspective! It was amazing. Try it, even if your kids are grown. Start looking at the world around you that way –your world, your (current, potential, non-) customers’ worlds. Imagine what it could be. We call that the “Parallax View”: a viewpoint from which you can observe and study something/somebody from a new angle, gaining insights unavailable before. Imagine what could happen if you tried this?
Here are some ways to start. Jeffrey Phillips encourages us to look at rituals, like shaving, and think about how we could reinvent them. Jerry Sternin improved malnutrition in Vietnam by looking at Positive Deviants – at those who, despite the circumstances and everyone around them, were doing better. Tony Hsieh talks about hiring lucky people, but luck isn’t totally accidental, it’s serendipitous, and luck breeds luck.
I bet you are already doing some of this but don’t realize it or use it as best as you could. Your customers’ and their customers’ business drivers are your leading indicators! There are indicators all around. There is the “Lauder Lipstick Indicator”, created after 9/11. There are job boards, real estate transactions, zoning permits that tell you the types of jobs, land & buildings, special capabilities your customers, or competitors, are looking at. By reading, watching, listening, observing, you can find many leading indicators, without spending big money on market studies, that can help you provide very valuable solutions (and business models) to your customers. Just give it a try.
So what are some of your leading indicators? Can you share them?
Deb, founder of Mills-Scofield LLC, is an innovator, entrepreneur and non-traditional strategist with 20 years experience in industries ranging from the Internet to Manufacturing with multinationals to start ups. She is also a partner at Glengary LLC, a Venture Capital Firm.