We’ve all read autobiographies of how ordinary people came up with great ideas that are now an established part of our high street. They invented whole new categories where there was nothing before and they came up with great brands that really captured the customer’s imagination.
New and disruptive ideas keep an industry from going stale so the big question is, how would you react if someone came to you with a great idea?
If you look at some of our retailing greats, most haven’t got a degree. If that’s the case, why have they done well? And what’s the difference between a businessman and an entrepreneur? An entrepreneur is typically someone without any or few formal qualifications that goes on to do well in business.
I think the two main skills that separate them are that the entrepreneur has a great power of observation and the power of empathy.
They observe things that cause them to ask simple questions like “why not?” and “what if?”. The power of empathy allows them to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and ask important questions like “if I were a customer, what would I want? How would I feel?”. They become the customer and anticipate the customers needs even before the customer does.
The businessman by comparison wants to do things based on market research, spreadsheets, interviews and business plans.
Apple, Nike and IKEA famously don’t use market research, they use empathy and become the customer. I’ve never used market research because I believe market research is for insecure middle managers who need to justify their decisions and who are afraid of making mistakes.
So back to the question, what would you do if someone working on the shop floor approached you with an idea based on nothing more than a gut feeling? Someone who spends all their time with customers. What if they came up with a great idea that could add real value to your business, would you listen? Your business needs all the help it can get so would you greet them with open arms?
I’ve met lots of retail executives and body language is a wonderful thing and I can tell you that the vast majority would not give the guy on the shop floor the time of day. They might listen and nod politely but they are probably thinking about the next meeting or how they can turn them down without offending them.
It seems that people are happier to accept a strategy when a consultant who has charged lots of money and has interviewed lots of customers and backed it up with huge market research delivers it.
Entrepreneurs believe it before they see it whereas managers need to see it to believe it so the easiest way to be right is to take very few risks.
Entrepreneurs are people with vision and some of the best ideas come from just ordinary people. Encourage people to come to you with ideas, but make it easy for them to approach you and then listen to them, the results may really surprise you.
This article first appeared in Retail Week.