Leave the herd

The best opportunities for business – to find new, sustainable growth, to engage customers more deeply, to stand out from the crowd, to improve their profitability – is by seizing the opportunities of changing markets. The best way to seize these changes is by innovating – not just innovating the product, or even the business itself, but by innovating the market.

It's actually an obligation!

next to our moral obligations to address global challenges, it is also an enormous business opportunity
— Paul Polman, CEO of Unilver

 

Such innovation carries risk, of course. It requires business to 'leave the herd', go it alone and take a chance. But given the opportunities, these are risks that business can't afford not to take. Fast-changing markets demand fast-changing businesses. Success in this new world requires a bigger ambition – to change the game, not just play the game.

Unlike the vulnerable young wildebeest that leaves the herd, seen by a hungry pride of lions, the outcome for business is unlikely to  terminal. Every time you take a risk in pursuit of your dreams, one of two things will happen: either you will succeed at your mission, or you will succeed at getting an education.

Innovators reject stagnation and hesitation, recognising that markets are malleable, geography is irrelevant, and sticking within the confines of categorisation is outdated. With the blurring of boundaries and the emergence of new spaces in which to operate, business practices and consumer perceptions can be shaped to your advantage.

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Be different, be noticed

And dare to leave the herd, to embrace new ways of operating. There are so many opportunities for those early-movers who rethink their business approach and shift towards 'for purpose' models that generate shared value for communities and the environment they live in.

The risk takers who opt to leave the herd do so by starting from the future backwards. They make sense of change, seeing the new patterns and possibilities, harnessing the power of ideas and digital networks to win in new ways. This requires new leadership thinking, and for the whole business to innovate (bring everyone along on the sustainability journey).

This goes beyond mere ideas. Someone needs to make them happen and, once a direction is in place, it’s about collaborating with customers and business partners. Concepts such as design thinking can be used to explore deeper, lean innovation to implement faster; co-creation to engage people more closely (to ensure buy-in and long-term commitment), and new business models to ensure they generate superior economic, social and environmental returns.

 Rethinking the way that tourism operates, taking account of customer concerns about their impact on the local environment and communities, has resulted in a huge growth in active holidays where people transport themselves in sustainable ways such as kayaking, cycling and walking

Rethinking the way that tourism operates, taking account of customer concerns about their impact on the local environment and communities, has resulted in a huge growth in active holidays where people transport themselves in sustainable ways such as kayaking, cycling and walking

Most companies like to focus on the ‘what’ (the product, service and experience), i.e. where they have conventionally succeeded. If they try to innovate, they do so within the existing game. The result of this is that most of their solutions are similar to competitors. Hence we see small differences to design and functionality, and small differences in prices. Consequently, the  focus on the what leads us to sameness. In contrast, leaving the herd and thinking about the ‘why’ and then the ‘how’, business can ‘reframe’ what it's about – redefining the market, on their own terms.

 Metro Bank are ripping up the 'rule book' with an approach to banking that puts the customer in charge. Their stores are open 7 days a week, including evenings, responding to what people are asking for; and are seen as community spaces where great things can happen.

Metro Bank are ripping up the 'rule book' with an approach to banking that puts the customer in charge. Their stores are open 7 days a week, including evenings, responding to what people are asking for; and are seen as community spaces where great things can happen.

Where this links to sustainability, we see the emergence of businesses which are focused on purpose, delivering benefits for people and planet alongside greater profitability. In the fast and crowded markets we have around us now, it's not about being slightly better, or slightly cheaper. Instead, it's about having a better vision, a better view of the market, and how business can make people’s lives better. In short, it's about creating the waves of change.