How do innovative entrepreneurs produce creative solutions? Apple invented the iPhone with a touchscreen, the AppStore, and thousands of apps when other cellphone vendors were manufacturing full keyboard Blackberries and twelve-button flip phones. The iPhone was so vastly different because Apple approached the mobile phone from a different perspective.
Imagine a landline. Decades ago, all that it provided was voice connectivity. Over the years, landlines experienced some innovations, but most enhancements were incremental rather than revolutionary. Rotary dials became push buttons. Caller-id replaced *69 and call-waiting ended busy-signals. Landlines provided voice connectivity but nothing more. Phones’ primary purpose was to connect voice calls and nothing more.
Now imagine working for a computer manufacturer. Computers run software from multiple vendors. They contain processors, storage, large screens, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microphones, and speakers to name a few. While many were the size of televisions, others were as compact as tablets. Simply adding a radio converted an everyday productivity tool into one that made phone calls as well.
The key to changing perspectives requires that you break the association you have with an item. Functional fixedness refers to the tendency to associate objects only with their most common uses. Keys open doors and hammers drive nails. In actuality, both can pry, scrape, claw and serve as weapons. Breaking these associations can be done by deconstructing the item into its constituent parts then listing the parts’ capabilities. For instance, describing a mobile phone as a cordless landline creates one set of possibilities. Seeing it instead as a handheld computer creates different ones. To imagine an object’s unconventional possibilities:
- Deconstruct it into its constituent parts,
- List all of the functions those parts can perform and
- Resolve the resulting deficiencies
Computers require software and no single vendor can or should provide all options. One customer prefers Zoom for collaboration, another likes Webex and a third wants Skype. Apple realized that the way to entice these and other vendors to support the iPhone was to make the integration simple, comprehensive, and profitable. Hence, it created the AppStore, so other vendors could sell their software. Apple supported these companies’ efforts and in turn, required a 30% fee for all purchases made within a mobile app. Most people assume that the iPhone’s revenue stems from the sale of the product itself although the AppStore produces a large segment of the profits.
Create Your Common Uncommon Business
Imagine you run a restaurant and are facing extreme competition. You’ve toyed with delivering food, making your own beer, and catering. Ladies’ Night and Happy Hours fill the restaurant during typically slow times and live music interests some new patrons. However, margins are still razor-thin, turnover is high, and resources are not fully utilized.
Revamp the restaurant by listing its components and the staff’s skills.
- Multiple food preparation stations
- A full bar
- Experience ordering and storing food and alcohol
- Experience preparing food
- Experience preparing mixed drinks
- Experienced wait staff
- Experience scheduling staff
- Knowledge of consumer tastes
- A reservation system
- Knowledge of local codes and regulations
- Thousands of square feet of wall space
- Thousands of square feet of floor space
- Relationships with food and beverage vendors
- Relationships with other restauranteurs
- Access to investors
Imagine the possibilities these assets might provide:
- Wine and spirits tastings
- Bartending classes
- Food and alcohol pairing events
- Cooking Classes
- Consulting Services for new restaurants
- Training for bartenders, sous chefs, and wait staff
- Showcasing and consigning artwork within the restaurant
- Bartender competitions
- Recipe competitions
- A referral network with other restaurants
- Refrigerated storage service
- Affiliate sales of the reservation system
Now evaluate each option but do not dismiss any because of associated challenges. The obstacles are actually advantageous because they provide a barrier for competitors that might copy your new practices. For instance, wine tastings can be easily replicated while cooking classes may require additional food preparation stations or a separate area altogether. Most of your competitors will not entertain that as a new service. Consider that the AppStore was challenging to deploy but it may be the iPhone’s most innovative attribute. The same may be said of the obstacle you chose to overcome.
Create by Dismantling
Innovate by taking your existing product or service apart. Identify what each component or combination of components can provide. Welcome new obstacles because they provide barriers for competitors. Innovation is only a few steps away and changing your perspective will change your business. So, stop imagining that you run a restaurant. You run a business that provides many services entailing space, tables, reservations, alcohol, and more. Food is only one of the services.