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How do you inspire creative thinking in your team without engaging the muse or adopting questionable practices? Stephen Wunker provides six practical steps that won’t break the law but will help break through constraints of the mind.

How do I get my team to show creative thinking?” Under normal circumstances, many executives we work with routinely face this challenge. But with the pandemic transforming the way we do business, bold thinking has turned into a necessity.

Several obstacles block innovative thinking, especially at established firms with a deeply engrained corporate work practices. People have busy schedules, work in siloed teams, and have trouble breaking away from longstanding assumptions about their market. They might lack the confidence that they can be creative and are worried their ideas will reflect poorly on them. They may be coming up with the same old answers because they keep asking the same old questions, not reframing their challenges or bringing new information to the table. And with COVID-19 thrown into the mix, engaging colleagues in a remote brainstorming session has become all the more challenging.

So what can executives do to encourage creative thinking? In our work, we’ve identified six best practices that companies can adopt to unlock bold ideas internally.

​1 – Put your team in the right mindset ahead of time

​Creative thinking doesn’t simply happen on the spot – you have to set the stage first. Before holding your workshop, make sure you communicate the urgency of the situation and the need for innovative ideas. Ideally, share around some data on your business’s performance, market trends, and upcoming threats to support your ask.

When it comes to prework, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First, make sure your team is aligned on what problem they are solving for – by holding a question-storming session before the main workshop, for instance. Then, make any prework as easy as possible for your colleagues by providing templates and clear guidelines on what’s in scope and what isn’t. This will help them save time and structure their submissions in a consistent, focused way.

 

Key points include:

  • Identify focal areas
  • Look beyond borders
  • Identify and address assumptions and biases

 

Read the full article, 6 Ways To Inspire Creative Thinking In Your Team, on NewMarketsAdvisors.com.

 

 

Stephen Wunker shares a post that identifies how the pandemic has presented aggressive businesses with an opportunity, and why the key to success lies in customer service.

 ‘Consumers don’t trust real estate agents,’ says Jimmy Mackin, whose business is selling software to…real estate agents. He continues, “There are minimal requirements to become a licensed real estate agent. The industry tends to attract the get-rich-quick crowd.”

How could someone with such a dire assessment of an industry make his living selling to it? And what are the lessons others can draw from how COVID is accelerating a long-overdue industry transformation?

​Lessons from a Vendor

Mackin runs a business called Curaytor, which provides marketing services to tech-enabled real estate agencies. The COVID pandemic has been a boom time. In Mackin’s view, it all makes sense. “We’ve seen a significant increase in the use of Matterport, a tool that enables an immersive 3D home tour with an interactive walkthrough and floorplan. It was once considered a luxury in our industry and it is now becoming a requirement.”

But the need for virtual solutions is just the tip of the iceberg. To Mackin, COVID has simply turbo-charged a pre-existing trend that separates full-time professionals from part-time hobbyists in his industry, and this explains his overall optimism. “Consumers are demanding a personalized experience, and the more you can be of service, the more you can learn about your customer’s needs.” The professionals invest in software, proactive service, and personalization.

​With COVID, consumers are demanding virtual tools and responsiveness to their particular concerns, and the more service-oriented agents can deliver the goods. He summarizes, “In order to earn your commission, you’ll have to be more than a glorified Uber-driver that gives someone a tour of a house. The role of the modern real estate agent is to be an expert advisor, not merely a facilitator.”

The transformation of real estate is part of The Great Reboot affecting industry after industry. Rather than seeing the pandemic as a pause between normal periods, forward-thinking businesspeople seem to be jumping on the moment as a time to do major updates of longstanding practices.

 

Read the full article, How COVID is Transforming a Profession Few People Love, on NewMarketsAdvisors.com.

 

Stephen Wunker provides a concise post that identifies four steps that can help build strategies to expand into new markets.

Market expansion is a goal many executives share, and rightly so. Expanding into new markets is not only a revenue driver but also a way to escape familiar competitive dynamics. It has powered giant success stories, such as Netflix’s entry into video streaming and then content production. Moreover, you don’t need to be a Silicon Valley wunderkind company to make it work. Consider Fujifilm’s transformation from Kodak rival to a $20 billion medical imaging powerhouse, or how Ingersoll-Rand grew from air compressors into markets as diverse as air conditioning and power tools.

But great care is required as dangers abound. All too often, these efforts become pet projects of senior executives, and they scale up before the customer needs or business model are truly worked out. Conversely, they can also linger in a zombie-like state, moving forward aimlessly with an unclear list of priorities, too little funding to spring to life, and no ability to kill off struggling ventures.

Who gets market expansion right? Look to venture capitalists for inspiration. Their profession is to assess new markets and figure out the best bets to make on them. Of course, if you have an established business, you should have a leg up on the VCs, as you have strategic advantages you can also leverage. The trick is to stay market-focused (not inwardly-focused) and not to transpose preconceptions from your existing business into new ones.

So, how do you do it? Here are four steps to expand into a new market:

 

Key points include:

  • Go-deeper techniques
  • Strategic theses
  • Prioritize market expansion ideas

 

Read the full article, 4 Steps to Achieve Market Expansion, on NewMarketsAdvisors.com.

 

 

Stephen Wunker shares a few key tips to help develop a customer experience strategy that is effective during times of crisis

If the customer experience for your company hasn’t changed in the past year, you are unusual. In industry after industry, from consumer goods to B2B technology, the distancing, fear, and economic turbulence caused by the coronavirus are affecting the sales process, customer selection criteria, the way products and services are consumed, and even what customer service means. Designing experiences for the coronavirus world is a fundamentally different proposition than what people responsible for CX were doing just 13 months ago.

A Pressing Need To Keep Customers Loyal

With the economic fallout from the coronavirus broad and durable, it’s more pressing than ever to keep your customers loyal. Their relationships with companies – be they restaurants or IT service vendors – may well consolidate as a result of the crisis, and you want to be one of their chosen partners going forward. Four steps provide a roadmap to do so:

  1. Determine What Changes Are Occurring In Key Jobs To Be Done

It’s critical in a crisis to understand what underlying motivations – or Jobs to be Done – are driving customers’ behaviors and preferences. The Jobs approach is a powerful way to think broadly about your business and how you might be relevant to people in ways you’ve barely considered. If there was ever a time to use these methods, it’s now.

For an example, look at restaurants – one of the industries most challenged by COVID-19. The Job of impressing a date is no longer relevant. Rather, restaurants that are still operating can target contemporary Jobs such as staying healthy while in confinement and feeling like a good parent. Step back, determine what’s driving priorities today, then chart which of these Jobs might relate to your business. Start by being expansive; you can winnow down the list as you proceed.

 

Key points include:

  • Map the customer’s current journey and potential leverage points
  • Consider new approaches and opportunities
  • Get inspired by what others are doing

 

Read the full article, Customer Experience Strategy In Times Of Crisis, on Newmarketsadvisors.com.

 

 

Stephen Wunker has published an article on costovation and how it is creating an agricultural revolution in Africa. 

In Africa, there is a product which smallholder farms urgently need, yet which few understand or think they can afford: insurance. Droughts, pests, floods, and other natural maladies can devastate a crop for the year and put farmers – as well as whole communities – at great risk of extreme hardship.

Yet, with few exceptions, the idea of paying a premium seems like wasted expense for populations unfamiliar with insurance. Worse, the cost of selling low-value policies, servicing them, managing claims, and combating potential fraud are prohibitive for an industry that has to keep costs super-low to make its offerings affordable for these target customers. Therefore, although Africa boasts 17% of the world’s arable land, it represents under 1% of worldwide agricultural insurance.

This is a prime opportunity to illustrate the principles of Costovation – the application of innovation tools to achieve dramatically lower costs while still meeting customer needs. The story of Pula Advisors, a Swiss firm that recently closed a $6 million Series A investment, shows how to reconceive a market in ways that radically shrink costs while simultaneously benefiting customers:​

First, Pula sought to Achieve Breakthrough Perspective. Pula’s founders had deep experience in the economics as well as attitudes of African agriculture. Many firms before them had endeavored to educate farmers about the virtues of insurance, but it was a costly, uphill task that still left many problems remaining. When customers did see the value, they often held back on purchasing a policy until they could see weather or other risks starting to materialize, which is precisely when an insurer doesn’t want customers to seek its products.

 

Key points include:

  • Microinsurance innovations
  • Cost drivers and strategies
  • The business model

Read the full article, How Costovation Through Insurance Is Creating An Agricultural Revolution, on the newmarketsadvisors.com.

 

 

 

In this article for Forbes, Stephen Wunker reveals how this small business led the charge in innovation, safety, and customer service during the height of the pandemic.

You might not think of an auto body shop as a hotbed of business innovation – but you’d be quite mistaken. Consider the story of one small chain that shows how businesses can go on offense during the coronavirus pandemic, seizing the initiative to remake customer experience, business relationships, and competitive position. This is how one company made its Great Reboot happen.

Today’s Collision, a 64-employee chain of three auto body shops based in the Boston suburb of Malden, saw the pandemic happen at an unfortunate time. Boston had a relatively mild winter with little snow, and – sorry to tell you – auto body shops expect people to have more accidents when the weather is nasty. However, owner Bobby Cobb had a realization: if the winter was tough for his relatively well-capitalized company, it must have much harder for the mom-and-pop firms that were already just eking by. As the coronavirus hit and the plummeting level of road traffic foretold still fewer collisions, Cobb knew that shops across the industry faced dire circumstances. For him, this was the time to seize the initiative.

 

Key points include:

  • Changing the customer experience
  • Expanding your business partnerships
  • Seizing market share from weaker rivals

 

Read the full article, How a Local Business got on the Front Foot during COVID, on Forbes.

 

 

Forbes published an article from Stephen Wunker that explores how we can leverage lessons learned from COVID-19 to develop, improve, and use scenario planning. 

Leading up to 2020, executives were already grappling with rising disruptive technologies, changing business models, and rivals emerging from unexpected places. Throw in a global pandemic, and the future seems about as predictable as a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors with a hundred hands.

While some were poised to respond to the turbulence that coronavirus introduced to business environments, most were not. Traditional approaches to strategic planning have largely been unsuited to COVID times and have left companies vulnerable. So, what are businesses to do in an environment changing so quickly that strategic plans end up getting thrown out the window?

Enter scenario planning, a form of planning that leverages what you don’t know to bring multiple hypothetical futures into view. Scenario planning allows you to:

  • Gain insight into the key drivers of a situation
  • Embrace and control uncertainty
  • Recognize the assumptions your organization has been making
  • Expose your false sense of security

Sound uncomfortable? Good! Scenario planning isn’t new, but it is newly relevant in the age of coronavirus and beyond. Some industries and businesses have already adopted scenario planning for COVID—if you’re in any way connected to a college or university, you’ve likely received an email from the administration detailing the potential options for coming back to campus in the 2020-2021 academic year. Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, distributed a list of six scenarios in early May.

 

Read the full article, Learning From Covid: How To Use Scenario Planning To Prepare For Future Uncertainty on Forbes.com.

 

 

Stephen Wunker explores the emotional connection in marketing and how this connection can be applied to Jobs to be Done to lay out pathways for creating targeted, meaningful, and relevant innovations.

The modern Mini Cooper—offered in a variety of eye-popping colors—burst onto the scene in 2001 as a chic version of an old British classic. It quickly became a fixture in trendy urban neighborhoods around the globe. Today, nearly twenty years later, the car still hasn’t lost its freshness: demand for Minis has remained robust with annual sales increasing at a steady pace of 5.2% per year.

On paper, the Mini doesn’t look like it should be such a break-out success. While its modest size makes it ideal for city living, other cars such as the Honda Fit or the Chevy Sonic are equally manageable in tight quarters. The Mini’s Comfort ratings in the Kelley Blue Book are tied with those of the VW Beetle and Toyota Yaris. Its gas mileage is no better than its competitors’, and sometimes it is worse. And with a sticker price that averages about $5,000 more than comparably sized rivals, the case for buying a Mini seems pretty weak.

The Mini’s surprising success comes from its unique, almost ineffable customer appeal. People just feel good about buying one.

 

Points covered in this article include:

  • Figuring out emotions
  • Quantifying emotional jobs
  • The hierarchy of emotions

 

Read the full article, Measuring Emotional Jobs To Be Done, on the Branding Strategy Insider website. 

 

Discover how Amazon’s battle with Netflix is teaching us to rethink competition and question how business should be defined in this article from Stephen Wunker’s company blog.

For many years now we’ve seen the dangers of defining your business too narrowly. Think about Borders, which pioneered the book megastore model. Rather than using the Internet’s rise to consider how new technologies or business models could allow it to better satisfy customers’ jobs to be done, it defined itself as a bookseller. When times got tough, it doubled down on trying to sell more of the items its customers happened to be buying — books, CDs, and DVDs. It last turned a profit in 2006 before ultimately declaring bankruptcy and closing its doors in 2011. Online retailer Amazon now reigns supreme in the space.

 

Read the full article, How Amazon’s Battle with Netflix is Teaching us to Rethink Competition, on Medium.