Here’s a dirty little secret to business innovation: Sometimes, coming up with something new starts with something old. In other words, copying someone else’s idea.
Maybe “copying” is the wrong word here. Of course, I’m not suggesting you steal another company's idea. What I am suggesting is that you use other businesses as models to inspire you to come up with your own great ideas.
Depending on how many years you’ve been in business or what industry you’re in, you’ve probably heard other companies aiming for their future goals by modeling themselves after an industry leader. For instance, over the decades I’ve heard restaurants aspiring to be “the next McDonald’s,” “the next Starbucks” and more recently, “the next Five Guys.”
Sure, you want your restaurant to be the next Five Guys Burgers and Fries because they’re successful and growing. But what if you thought about what it really means to be Five Guys? What if you try to model your business after the way industry leaders do business?
Here’s how to use other companies as a jumping-off point for your own innovation.
Pick a company you admire. Most likely, this will be in your own industry, whether that’s retail, business services or e-commerce. What is it you admire about this business? Is it their operations, their brand, their service? Decide what you aspire to about how this company does business, and pick apart how they achieve it.
Mirror the success of your model. Could your business become as flexible to customer needs as Starbucks? As focused on a limited menu of offerings as Five Guys? As systematized as McDonald’s?
These goals will seem far-reaching, of course, so here’s where you get innovative. Don’t constrain yourself with reality just yet—imagine what you would need to reach those goals. Then imagine what you could do if you had the resources you need.
Use reverse analysis. Next, approach from the reverse direction and think about what you could do differently than your model company. Is there a weakness or failing in your model company that could give you an edge? What could you provide that they’re lacking?
Think outside the box. Consider companies outside your industry that have some element you admire, and how you might implement elements of those companies into your own. What would it look like to be the DailyCandy.com of restaurants? Or the Five Guys of business consulting? The Facebook of retail? How could you apply the outstanding features of your model business to your existing business?
This can start to get pretty abstract, but abstract is where innovation happens. (Keep in mind, too, you don’t have to model yourself after a national brand—it could be a local competitor you’re trying to beat.)
Try this tactic, and someday people might be modeling their companies after your business.