Looking For Answers In Different Places

This week, I had the privilege of sitting with some of the smartest people I know. We were talking about the challenges both sellers and buyers face in solving buyers’ problems.

As we studied research, and shared ideas/experiences, there were some fascinating insights. There were ideas that could drive great increases in performance.

But something troubled met about the discussion. To some degree, it was that feeling of “deja vu.” I’m involved in, literally, hundreds of these types of conversations every year. With clients, struggling to innovate and change, with thought leaders looking to introduce new approaches.

We struggle in innovating. It seems we search for new answers in all the usual places. But, inevitably, that limits us. We become prisoners of our own experience, we become prisoners of our expertise.

As a result, much of what we do is actually a variant of what we have done in the past. For example, often, we look at applying technology to what we do. These solutions may improve our efficiency, but they are extensions of what we already do. They don’t enable us to think differently about what we do or to innovate.

Alternatively, we “benchmark” others. “What are others in our industry doing?” “What are other similar sales/marketing organizations doing?”

It turns out, our biggest leaps in innovating come from looking for our answers in different places than we normally look for them.

We may innovate when we look for answers in very different places. For example, a lot of B2B innovation is coming from looking at B2C and adapting some of the great practices in B2C.

We’ve seen huge innovation in looking at very different industries or markets. For example, with a very large semiconductor manufacturer, we found huge innovation by looking at the fashion industry. Common practices in the fashion industry became new and innovative when adapted within our customer’s marketing and sales practices.

As we look, more generally, at innovation in sales and marketing, it’s important to think, “Can we find insights and innovation outside sales and marketing?”

When we think about sales and marketing, what we really are addressing is change. Getting customers to change vendors/suppliers. Getting them to change what they do, adapting new approaches that leverage our solutions.

But, as I mentioned before, if we continue to look within sales and marketing, we become prisoners of our expertise/experience. What if we start looking at how people/organizations effectively manage change in other areas?

What if we started looking at other functions, for example product development and engineering, or manufacturing, better understanding how they understand, manage, and drive change?

What if we looked at our own internal change/project management efforts, understanding how effective change works there?

What if we looked at alliances/partnerships/collaborations, understanding how they manage drive change?

What if we looked outside of business, to other organizations impacted by complexity and change? For example, education, healthcare, some of the work done by NGOs and other organizations?

Just because we haven’t solved the problems of change within sales and marketing, doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t come up with ideas that we can “artfully plagiarize.”

Our experience and expertise often traps or limits us. As we look at change in our ever increasingly complex worlds, we might learn more by looking in different places.

Afterword: There is a continually increasing amount of data about how our experience and expertise limits us in very complex problems/challenges. You may want to read some of this work. One of the more current, thoughtful pieces is Range by David Epstein. Another favorite of mine is Principles by Ray Dalio

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