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How To Emulate Some Of The Most Innovative Companies

Whether you’re being copied or looking to others for inspiration, imitation and innovation often go hand-in-hand.

How To Emulate Some Of The Most Innovative Companies
[Photo: vladimir salman via Shutterstock]

Some of the best ideas come from the most unexpected of places.

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Henry Ford is known for introducing one of the greatest innovations in American history: the assembly line. The inspiration for this revolutionary idea, however, came from a tour of a slaughterhouse in Chicago and seeing the “disassembly line,” as it was so aptly called.

Innovation is no longer a luxury, but rather a fundamental element of survival in today’s lightning fast world. When looking for ways to innovate, many people and organizations will first turn their attention inward to what they are most familiar with: their business and industry, their direct competitors, and their customers as they have come to know them.

To succeed, we often need to think from the outside in. This is especially true for historically static industries such as automotive and transportation–as well as my own, banking–each of which remain shackled to old practices, even as they need to look to technology accelerants to spur change to meet customer demands.

Like Ford, we’re seeing successes come as a result of experiences borrowed from other industries and modified for different business models–and our consumers are validating this approach. Banking leaders are creating breakthrough ideas by improving on innovations from industries that have nothing to do with their business.

Here are a few ways I draw inspiration to make sure I continue to think “innovate” and not “stagnate:”

1. Look Beyond Perks To Solve Supply And Demand

The needs of consumers have a causal effect on how businesses strive to meet current demand. Hotels and airlines have solved this issue with dynamic pricing, changing booking costs based on daily supply and demand.

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Borrowing this idea, Uber and Lyft reinvented the taxi industry which had remained largely unchanged for decades. While both companies are normally recognized for their integration of geolocation technology and mobile payments, their pricing models may be the most interesting aspect of their business.

“Surge pricing” or “Prime Time” as it’s called by Uber and Lyft respectively incentivizes drivers with higher rewards and reduces the amount of people competing for rides in times of high demand; Lyft also offers users the opportunity to get lower prices during non-competitive times. The practice of dynamic pricing, while controversial, has shown to be a successful way to manage consumer needs for the growing companies and keep their drivers engaged.

2. If You Don’t Need It, Cut The Fat

Tesla is succeeding at what many thought to be a nearly-insurmountable task–building an electric car company. Founder Elon Musk and his team are revolutionizing performance and mileage with innovative advances in battery technology. In addition, it is using software and data analytics to re-write how we shop for and purchase automobiles, beginning with eliminating the dealer network.

Warby Parker has taken a similar approach to improve on yet another traditional industry and product. Prior to its launch, estimates typically showed less than one percent of eyeglasses sold online annually. Through home try-ons coupled with online ordering, Warby Parker was able to eliminate the need for numerous stores and the cost associated with staffing and running them.

3. Don’t Forget To Take It In Context

It’s not revolutionary to say that mobile is dramatically improving the retail experience. The device in our hand opens up near limitless opportunity to establish much more intimate connections with our users. For example, I’m a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf fan, and their app will recommend a drink to me based on the weather in my area and sometimes offer a discount, incentivizing me to buy.

With Apple Pay, Apple has introduced a mobile wallet solution with its signature elegance and simplicity of use that will likely spur significant adoption. Yet its biggest innovation is not changing the payment process at retail, but rather in enabling location and context-aware applications to create more brand experiences for us wherever we are, whatever we’re doing.

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Apple Pay joins many other services that provide a more intelligent, seamless point of purchase. Today’s consumer can purchase a last minute seat upgrade after boarding the airplane, receive a discount for ground transportation home from the airport or confirm auto-loan approval from the bank when stepping into an auto dealer’s showroom.

Innovations are probably occurring in your industry from the most unlikely of sources. It’s easy to get stagnant, so here are few things to keep in mind:

  1. Context is key. Look for those moments where your user is not yet interacting with your brand, but needs them dearly.
  2. Question everything. If colleagues are shooting down your concepts using antiquated mindsets, make sure to ask “Why?” and “Why not?”
  3. Don’t make your user do more. Think about shortening the path to the experience, and look to those who are nailing the effortless factor.

There are great ideas out there waiting for you. Whoever you imitate should be flattered.

José Resendiz serves as vice president of product design, development, and management as well as Chief Innovation Officer for Digital Insight, an NCR company. In this role, he leads innovation strategy and is responsible for creating new product capabilities that drive growth for consumers, financial institutions and Digital Insight.

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