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Observe and learn from customers

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Managers, like everyone else, are more comfortable and more skilled sticking to old patterns rather than embracing new ones. Experience may teach us certain lessons that become entrenched. We think, "We’ve always done it that way, so that's the way we'll continue to do it."

The problem is that a fast-changing world requires nimble thinking. Creativity doesn't exist in a vacuum—you need to banish long-held assumptions and pursue new avenues of exploration with an open mind.

Let's examine how keen observational skills—and a willingness to break free from outmoded ways of thinking—can unlock breakthrough discoveries for your team.

Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, sought ways to boost sales during the early years of his furniture store. So he instructed his employees to watch and learn from supermarket shoppers. Kamprad's staff spent much time wandering the aisles of markets and noticed that many shoppers arrived with a purpose: They’d grab a series of items, cross the items off their list and head to the checkout line.

On their way, they'd often stop and consider an impulse buy. But their baskets were already full by that time so they didn’t get the additional item.

IKEA employees realized that by placing baskets only at the store entrance, markets were limiting their sales. They urged Kamprad to stack baskets and carts throughout IKEA stores to encourage shoppers to go hog wild. And that's one reason IKEA generates such high sales volume today.

Lessons Learned

To break old patterns and think more creatively, take these steps:

Describe a process using a numbered list. Examine a work process in a new way by jotting a numbered list of steps to complete it. Then review the list and modify it—reverse or delete various steps and judge how each move would affect the outcome. This exercise helps you evaluate work habits with fresh eyes.

Switch chairs. Spend a few hours exchanging roles with a colleague in another unit of your organization. If you’re in marketing, trade places with an IT specialist. If you’re in HR, try your hand in finance. By stepping into another role, you’ll see connections that might spur ideas.

See what others see. Observe customers in their natural surroundings. Visit their work and experience their physical space. You’ll gain empathy for the challenges they face and devise more creative solutions for them as a result.

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