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creativity column

Look outside your own industry to disrupt your own.


Last month, I attended The Sharing Summit on the campus of Lehigh University inside Iacocca Hall. The event was a gathering of business owners and entrepreneurs there to discuss the transition of the industrial economy to the sharing economy. The keynote speech was given by Mr. Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline. 

He spoke on a variety of interesting topics, but there were two that really captivated me. He spoke about an exercise he does every morning called ‘Info-sponging.’ It’s the process by which he spends up to twenty minutes a day reading about something he’s curious about. It could be from a newspaper, a book, website, or a magazine article.

It’s the one time of day where he’s about soaking up as much new information as he possibly can. nThe trick to this daily ritual is that the topics he chooses are not directly related to anything he’s currently involved in or working on. The whole point of the exercise is that he reads material or topics that he has no obvious connection to.  Hoffman believes that a key to success is to have a broader funnel and to always be passionately curious. That’s what will set you apart. 

The second item he spoke about that drew me in, was that he believes that anyone looking to disrupt the industry they work in, cannot do so from the inside. In other words, if you work in Healthcare, you must look outside your own industry for innovation.

“If you work in health care, what do you work on all day long? Health care,” Hoffman says. “What problems do you solve all day? Health-care problems. If I said to you, ‘Hey, I’m going to the banking industry conference, do you want to go?’ You might say, ‘No, I don’t do banking. I’m in health care.’”

UBER was never going to be created by a taxi company and Airbnb was never going to be coaxed in to existence by a hotel chain. But yet, those businesses have completely disrupted their respective industries. 

History has shown examples of this theory in action. Archimedes, in the original ‘eureka’ moment discovered a method for measuring the volume of an irregularly-shaped object in relationship to the gold in the king’s crown while he took a bath. Gutenberg is widely credited with combining the idea of block printing (which the Chinese had been using since the 11th century) with a screw press that was mainly used for olive oil and wine production and brought printing to the masses with his Gutenberg Bible. 

So what problems or business challenges could you be solving by looking at other industries for the answer? It again comes down to getting out of your own way and being willing to expand your comfort zone. Maybe you should add Info-sponging in to your daily ritual. You don’t have to have all the answers, you just have to be ready to take action when your ‘Eureka’ moment happens.

William ChildsComment