Business growth today requires new ways of looking at the world, say Sarah Rottenberg and Isabel O'Meara, of design firm Jump Associates in New York. In Rotman Magazine, they offer seven ways to enhance your ability to see new possibilities that do not yet exist:
LOOK AT YOUR OWN LIFE
Long-distance cyclist and rock climber Gary Erickson invented the Clif Bar after he tried an energy bar that had no texture or taste. Scott Cook came up with the idea for Quicken personal finance software after sitting at the table watching his wife struggle to balance their accounts. Microsoft product manager Trish May developed PowerPoint due to frustration with the old ways of creating presentations.
LOOK THROUGH SOMEONE ELSE'S EYES
While founders and employees can represent a segment of a company's customer base, most businesses grow and succeed by reaching out to people who are different from their staff. Get out into the real world, and meet face-to-face with your customers. GE's Plastics division was shocked to find its corporate customers less interested in driving the bottom line and more artisanal in sensibility, eager to see what new cool things they could make from plastic fibres.
Take one step back and adopt a wider frame of reference: the rest of the ecosystem connected to your business. In 1999, eBay saw the rising importance of online payments and bought Billpoint, a budding online-payment system.
Look at where a sideline in your business might expand into a larger opportunity. Boston entrepreneurs Stacy Madison and Mark Andrus, who sold sandwiches made on pita bread, started baking their leftover bread into pita chips to hand out to people in the long lineups at their food cart. Eventually, they realized the pita chips was the business they could develop more easily, and built a $30-million (U.S.) operation, Stacy's Pita Chip Co., which Frito-Lay bought in 2005.
LOOK AT WHAT YOU CAN BORROW
Borrowing great ideas from others can help you reimagine your own business. Vernon Hill, who worked with 7-Eleven and McDonald's franchises, started Commerce Bank in 1973, designed to offer the same convenience and service as a fast-food outlet.
LOOK WITHIN YOUR ORGANIZATION
Companies learn from other divisions within their own organization. When it was owned by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Dentyne Gum borrowed blister packaging for its new Dentyne Ice product from the parent company's over-the-counter medications division. That helped send a message that it wasn't simply a gum, but also a cure for bad breath.
LOOK FOR BARRIERS
Product offerings must be compelling enough to overcome possible barriers to purchase. Flying in a plane over the rooftops of a city, industrial designer Peter Bressler came up with an idea to integrate solar technology with existing roofing shingles, overcoming the concerns many potential solar users had that a traditional installation would be ugly.
E-MARKETING: Keep landing pages simple
When marketers entice someone to their website the next stage is to turn the prospect into a buyer on the landing page. Tim Ash, an e-marketing specialist, says on Larry Chase's Web Digest For Marketers, that landing pages should be designed for conversion, not for aesthetics.
Make sure to echo the key words that were in the ad or what the person typed into the search field. If possible, make those the title of the page. Capture the viewer's eyes with a headline, buttressed by a message about what the page is about. Then display the central image, presumably of your product. Finally, give the call to action. The most important information should be placed in the centre of the page and slightly to the left.
Trim your work day
What would happen if you were prohibited from working more than five hours a day, asks business adviser Seth Godin. How would you use those five hours to become indispensable in a different way? Try it for a week, and see how it turns out. Even if you return to a 10-hour day, you'll have changed the way you compete. Seth's Blog
A study by four academics - Amy Cuddy, Susan Crotty, Jihye Chong, and Michael I. Norton - found that culture shapes gender stereotypes, with men being portrayed as the ideal depending on the prevailing culture. In one study, for example, Americans, who generally prize independence over interdependence, rated men as less interdependent than women, while in South Korea, where the opposite sensibility is prominent, men were seen as more interdependent than women. Harvard Business School Working Papers
The teacher boss
When your manager talks to you, do you learn something? Blogger Marilyn Haight says a boss should be teaching every time he or she talks with you. BigBadBossBook.blogspot.com
Can I take a meeting?
Entrepreneur Jim Estill says a success habit he has developed is to decide ahead - making an appointment with himself to do certain things the next day at certain times. Time Leadership blog
Thinking outside the hat
Set aside time in meetings for a thought-provoking or fun question, drawn from a hat or jar of interesting questions. Do a speed round in which everyone gives top of mind responses so it doesn't take much time. Humor At Work newsletter
Web-based goal tender
A free shareware download, 42 Goals, allows you to set a series of goals and keep a log to track them in a visually pleasing way, displayed in charts to show your progress. You can use it to check your daily productivity, expenses, or even whether you're cutting down on your coffee consumption. Lifehacker.com
PERSONAL PRODUCTIVITY: Why you're hooked on e-mail
Can't live without your e-mail? Eager to break the habit? Blogger Ali Hale looks at why you're addicted and how to break free on the Dumb Little Man blog:
Reason 1: You open e-mail by habit, without consciously thinking about it. To break the habit, make it harder to open your e-mail by removing the icon from your desktop or taking the bookmark off your browser. Replace the habit with something else, such as planning your day when you first arrive at work rather than looking at e-mail.
Reason 2: When you finish a task and don't know what to do next, you look at e-mail. Fight this with a to-do list, and batch smaller tasks together so you can move smoothly from one to another.
Reason 3: You're expecting something urgent. That's reasonable, but then you often find yourself looking for things that are less urgent. If you can delegate your e-mail, have someone else tell you when the urgent missive comes; otherwise, check out a service such as Away Find, which will alert you if an e-mail from a specified person arrives.
Reason 4: It's a convenient way to procrastinate. Instead, set a timer and focus on your work without any breaks for a set length of time.
Reason 5: You look for e-mail, and when one arrives it feels like a reward for your efforts (like a lab rat getting a morsel of food for successfully performing a task). "Find other ways to get that feel-good factor," Ms. Hale suggests. "For instance … print out any particularly glowing e-mails from customers and keep them pinned to the notice board behind your desk."