Ramon VullingsGlobal speaker and author on cross-industry innovation

There is a misconception on where good ideas come from. In most cases, really good ideas come from something existing which is then adapted to another area.

Cross-industry innovation is the clever way to jump start your innovation efforts by drawing analogies and transferring approaches between contexts, beyond the borders of your own industry, sector, area or domain.

These analogies can be drawn at various levels, from products to services, to processes, to strategies, to business models, to culture and leadership.

There are many cool examples of cross-industry innovation in action. I keep on searching for these examples (on multiple levels: process, business model, management, …) to build a good searchable database and I also publish some of them on my blog.

Many disruptions come from different sectors

54% of CEOs (IBM IBV study) indicate that they see competition coming from other sectors in the near future. For organisations it is of vital importance to have a proper ‘remix strategy‘. So think about choosing the right approach for your cross-industry innovation efforts. There are 3 main approaches:

  1. Outside-in: knowledge and skills are taken over – with adaptation – from other sectors, for use in your own industry/domain.
  2. Inside-out: see what ‘assets’ and intellectual property (IP) you can use (export) in other sectors.
  3. Coupled: deliberately create something new together with a (non-competitive) partner (a few examples: Nike+: Apple with Nike, Senseo: Philips with Sara Lee)

Note: Many organisations apply all three approaches at the same time on different levels.

Ask yourself: What Would x Do? WWxD?

It starts pretty simple, by just asking yourself: ‘What Would x Do?

Many start-ups also use this for business model remixing, they present themselves like: ‘We are the x for y‘, for example: ‘We are the Airbnb for Meeting rooms‘. So, now ask yourself: ‘How would x tackle our situation?‘ or ‘How can we become the x for y?‘.

Organisations need to go from ‘best practices’ to ‘next practices’ to keep a competitive edge

Organisations who optimise for best practices (benchmarking, Six Sigma, balance score cards, …) do great within their sector, yet competition does exactly the same things! In the end this will only drive prices and profitability down. The key is to go for ‘next practices’ which in many cases come from totally different sectors or domains.

Go from EGO to LEGO: Ego blinds organisations from looking outside

The potential of ideas and approaches from other areas is tremendous. Still only very few organisations apply cross-industry innovation strategies in any kind of structured way.

Why do we hold back? Why don’t we look beyond our borders more often? We often seem to search for solutions in the areas we already know.

The not invented here syndrome actually holds people back from using ideas, concepts and approaches from other domains. It’s my plea to embrace other people’s and other sector’s ideas and build upon them. This way not invented here becomes already invented there!

In most cases it’s ego which blocks us from learning from other areas, so we need to go from ‘EGO’ to ‘(L)EGO’. To decompose and recompose our industry variables and actually using building blocks from other areas to generate new solutions and approaches!

Cross-industry innovation is a structured method to get insights from other industries

The model I outline in my keynotes and walk through in strategic / business and leadership development projects with clients, comes down to these 3 steps:

  1. CONCEPT: The ability to conceptualise. Become more flexible in asking questions on multiple levels. Play with abstraction levels. Get help from curators and conduct in-depth research. — Ask: why?
  2. COMBINE: The ability to make smart combinations. Use lateral thinking to find matches and similarities. Seeing the (potential) parallels in order to organise a profitable meeting of contexts. Search for elegant inspiration. — Ask: what if?
  3. CREATE: The ability to make it your situation. It is not survival of the fittest, but rather the best fitting. This step ensures that you make it: adapt, modify, customise it to your situation. Adopt what you can, adapt the rest. — Ask: how?

Business lessons can be learned from other industries, from art, nature or even organised crime

The natural way to start is to look at how other companies do things, yet there is so much more to be learned from way different domains. In the book ‘Not invented here: cross-industry innovation‘ we outline various different areas to look at and to use the principles behind these (sometimes radical) approaches.

Use tools & knowledge brokers to ‘jump start’ your innovation efforts!

To help you jumpstart your innovation efforts by looking at other sectors and domains there are 3 good starting points:

  • Knowledge brokers: organisations, websites, individuals who already have do the curation for you, here’s a list of 101 cross-industry super sites to help you get started.
  • Tools: find a good set of free(!) tools (the cross-industry jackpot, the 11 research steps and more) on the website: crossindustryinnovation.com/tools
  • Book: Use the process and principles, examples & tools outlined in the book: ‘Not Invented Here: cross-industry innovation‘, there are 9 chapters and each chapter has a lot of examples of cross-industry innovation in action and also each chapter ends with an easy to use cross-industry tool.