It’s Not What You See. It’s How You See It.

Do you see an old lady in this picture?  A young lady?  Both? 

When viewing something, the mind often fills in what it expects to see.   Humans have a tendency to rely on experience and expectation instead of sight alone.  It lets us make decisions faster and process things more quickly.  The downside of this is that there are things that get overlooked.

Innovations can emerge from looking at familiar things in new ways. 

Re-see and Repurpose

Incremental change often goes unnoticed.  If you look at your yard every day, you don’t notice the grass growing.  But go on a two-week vacation.  When you come home, the first thing you notice is how much the grass has grown.

The same applies to the assets around us at work.  We become so accustomed to what’s always been there that we take things for granted, overlook them, or even start viewing things as liabilities that were once considered strengths.

One way to jump start innovation is to consider things from a different perspective.  Can what’s around you be viewed differently?  Can resources be used differently?  Some methods taught by academics include:

·         Adaptation

Transform something that you have into something even more useful in your existing environment.  Are there any modifications or adjustments you can make to things you already have access to which would render them of even more value to you? 

·         Exaptation

Perhaps something that you’ve taken for granted is no longer working as it once was.  It might have evolved into something new, or it might be used in a way that is different from its original intent.  This can spark an innovation if you’re aware of the change.  Discerning whether something you have has undergone an exaptation requires stepping back and looking at it with a fresh set of eyes and without the blinders of past expectations. 

 ·         Connect and Combine

The value of an individual asset might be greatly enhanced by connecting it with another asset you have access to or combining it with the assets of others.  This is an opportunity to look for synergies across multiple platforms or environments. 

An Example:  Rising Tide Car Wash

The D’Eri family is very entrepreneurial.  The father, John, ran his own business and considers himself a tinkerer.  His son, Tom, shares the same interest in building and creating.  Wanting to start his own company, he took an effectual approach.  He started with assessing his Bird in Hand, one of the principles of Effectuation.  The Bird in Hand principle states that expert entrepreneurs usually initiate a new venture based on what they have immediate access to.  This usually involves considering who they are, what they know, who they know, and what they have. 

John and Tom started by looking at the resources available to them.  A novice entrepreneur will often look only at those items they consider to be beneficial.  An expert entrepreneur, however, goes deeper.  They survey their surroundings and consider how anything and everything that can be accessed can be converted into an asset. 

In the case of the D’Eri’s, one resource they had access to is an autistic family member.  Their son / brother, Andrew, is autistic.  They desired to create a business where he could not just work, but thrive and where autism would serve as a competitive advantage. 

Their outcome:  the creation of Rising Tide Car Wash. 

Here are the steps they took to grow Rising Tide from a concept in 2012 to a thriving enterprise today.    

1.      Maximized resources

People with autism often exhibit similar behavioral characteristics, such as attention to detail, enthusiasm for work, and appreciation of routine.  The father / son team considered ventures that benefited from these skills.  One that emerged was car washing.  It’s a very rote process and the use of more sophisticated technology today requires an element of standardization.  It’s also an industry where operational efficiency is a strong driver of profitability, so it seemed to be a good fit. 

2.      Translated strengths into processes

Next, the duo took a regimented approach to operations.  They defined all of the required processes and mapped them out in detail.  This became the bedrock of the business model. 

3.  Invested in training

Instilling the processes into all employees was paramount.  Rising Tide focused its efforts on building the confidence and competence of its workforce through an in-depth onboarding program.  This allowed them to staff a workforce of whom approximately 80% are autistic. 

4.       Marketed the message

An innovation spreads as its embraced by others.  In this case, Rising Tide let its community know of its efforts and results.  They provide good work opportunities for individuals with autism and a fast, quality car wash for patrons.  Many have embraced both the customer and social benefits as Rising Tide has more than tripled its volume in about 4 years.

Look Again – With Effectual Eyes

Are there things in your environment that you’re overlooking? 

Take another look at what you have around you.  Pull out that list of organizational gaps and weaknesses and give it another glance.  Can you convert anything on that list that you’re currently viewing as a negative into an advantage?  Is there something you’ve taken for granted that can be reimagined? 

The innovation you’re looking for might already be in front of you.  Maybe it’s not about looking to acquire what you don’t have, but instead, looking differently at what you do have. 

--Written by Sara Whiffen, Founder & Managing Partner, Insights Ignited LLC