Learning from Others

Five steps for discovering new ideas from other industries.

Diana Lillicrap 9.24.2013

A few months back, we wrote about the idea that knowledge is not proprietary. Learning from others is always a great way to extend your perspective and discover new ideas that may apply to your business. So how do you go about learning from other industries? Here are five steps we’d recommend.

Step 1: Get organized

Start by defining your goals and confirming what you are trying to do. Sell more widgets? Increase donations? Build brand awareness? Improve customer satisfaction? Be sure to identify the key traits you want your organization to have. Do you want to be seen as the high-tech leader? Do you want customers to feel like royalty?

Your goals can be lofty, but make sure you define what success means to you by also defining tangible measurements. For example, if your lofty goal is to treat customers like royalty, your tangible measurement might be to increase customer satisfaction by 20% over the next six months.

Step 2: Identify industries

Once you’ve established your goals, you’ll be ready to pick the industries that have the traits you want to achieve. Think broadly about all the industries you could review. If your goal is to make customers feel relaxed and comfortable, consider looking at spas. If you want to provide high-tech conveniences, maybe check out airlines or banks that provide easy online access.

Choose three to four different industries where you think you can learn something new. Then identify a few businesses in each of those industries to study up-close. Be sure to pick organizations that are at the top of their field so you can learn from the best.

Step 3: Discover best practices

The next step is to go out and explore. This could be through a tour, an interview, or even a review of an online experience. Go through the process of purchasing a product or making a donation. Pay attention to everything around you—sights, sounds, smells. How are you greeted? Is it clean? Is it bright or dark? Is the music loud? How are you guided through the process? Is there someone to help you? Are there signs guiding you or technology to make things easier? Do you feel lost at any point? What works well and what could be better?

Step 4: Evaluate

Once you’ve done your fieldwork, you’ll be ready to report and evaluate what you’ve learned. What processes could your organization emulate and what might you need to do to alter them for your industry? Having an outside viewpoint in this step may be helpful to pinpoint and critique suggestions. You’ll come back with a lot of ideas, but you can’t implement all of them. Be sure to go back to your original goals and select the best-practice ideas that accomplish your objectives.

Step 5: Implement

Now that you’ve determined what your organization can do, put together a plan to get it done. Identify who will be responsible for each element and what support they will need from various departments. Create a timeline that allows for all the pieces to come together and a means to measure your tangible goals.

Once you’ve launched the new processes, remember to track your results, keep learning, and adjust as you go. Use both hard data and anecdotal evidence to see if the changes you’ve made are working. Always be ready to go through the process again because best practices can change, customer expectations will adjust with improvements in technology, and social norms are always evolving.

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