conventional thinkingWhat do companies like Kodak, Sears, Sony, and Blockbuster have in common?

All of these once-monolithic businesses clung to status-quo thinking rather than seeking to constantly adapt, innovate, and improve.

In at least two cases, the reward for their conventional thinking was bankruptcy.

How does an organization escape the prison of conventional thinking?

“The first step is to consider the way you have always done business—and stop,” says Brian Klapper, a contributor to the Harvard Business Review Blog. “Failing to do so not only prevents truly innovative thinking: it also ensures failure.”

Klapper, president and founding partner of The Klapper Institute, offers tips for “killing the status quo” in your business strategy.

How to Free Yourself from Conventional Thinking

Impose Artificial Limits

Putting strict limitations on your thinking to ditch conventional thinking may seem counterintuitive, but it forces you to work harder to invent unforeseen solutions. Klapper poses these scenarios as examples of restricted situations:

  • What if you could serve only one of your existing consumer segments?
  • What would happen if you had to move from Business-to-Community to Business-to-Business (or the other way around)?
  • After you’re forced to cut the price of your product, what do you do next?
  • When your business can no longer acquire new customers, what do you do to increase the value of your existing customer base?

Change Your Point of View

A recent study from the University of Michigan confirms an interesting characteristic of human nature: We often refuse to give up strongly held beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

New York Life once asked Klapper to assist in re-inventing the end-to-end customer experience for one of its product lines. Klapper took inspiration from his own experience purchasing a Mini Cooper. “My Mini salesperson not only agreed to let me pay for the car two days after possession, he also drove the car to my house with a box of Mini ‘gifts’ and took care of all the paperwork.” Klapper wasn’t even asked to provide a credit card.

Inspired by this dramatically different concept of customer service, New York Life “rethought their entire customer experience.” This resulted in a redesign of their collateral, production of a personalized, handwritten letter, and an upgrade to concierge-level customer service. The re-invention process succeeded “because of the insights the team gained from an experience outside of the conference room.” And because they let go of firmly held conventional thinking about the sales process.

Match Up Your Company to Others

In a similar vein, Klapper advises comparing your business to others, particularly “those outside of your industry.” He quotes Steve Jobs: “Expose yourself to the best things humans have done, and then try to bring those things into what you are doing.”

It’s not about imitating what other organizations have achieved, but rather studying their methods to stimulate “surprising ideas” you may not have considered otherwise.

Seek Out Unusual Opportunities

Unconventional and innovative thinking needn't be restricted to your products or services. Look with fresh eyes at every touch-point between your business and your customers “to improve how they currently interact with you.” This can be anything from how you build brand awareness efforts to devising new ways to spur referrals among your most satisfied customers.

As Klapper notes, the strategies that helped you reach your current level of success don’t necessarily relate to what’s needed to stay competitive and successful. Escape the status quo and let go of conventional thinking by stimulating new ideas from “as many non-traditional interactions as possible.”

How do you stimulate unconventional thinking in your business?