This blog first appeared as Jennifer Luo Law's piece for LinkedIn
By Jennifer Luo Law
In 2012, John Zimmer was running a carpooling startup with his best friend Logan Green when they asked themselves a fateful question: If we could do this all over again, how would we do it?
It wasn’t that their company was failing. Actually, the opposite was true. Zimride had grown at a steady clip in the 5 years since it was founded. Its reach extended to over 125 university campuses, and the company was turning a profit.
But the question still loomed over the Zimride founders’ heads: What would we do if we were starting over today? What was true in 2012 that was not true in 2007?
The proliferation of smartphones.
With smartphones, carpooling went from being something that you scheduled days in advance, to something that you hailed on demand—a revolutionary innovation that made transportation both cheaper and a better experience.
You likely haven’t heard of Zimride, but you definitely know Zimmer and Green’s second company, Lyft, which is now valued at over $15 billion dollars. Zimmer and Green’s fortune wouldn’t have been possible if not for their courage to ask the tough questions, even when the answers looked ugly and suggested starting over.
Daring to take a creative new perspective—on your project, on your company, on your industry at large—is a critical first step for transformational innovations. Finding that perspective sounds scarier and harder than it is. Here are three lines of inquiry proven to fire up creativity.
1. Examine your industry from afar—as if you are wearing binoculars. What would an outsider find surprising about the way you do business?
Outdated ideas are grandfathered into industries all the time, like “airlines must assign seating or else there will be chaos” or “no one would let a stranger stay in their spare bedroom.” Take a step back from your work to identify long-held assumptions about your industry that may no longer be true—or that can be tested. The way things have always been done is not necessarily the best way to do them.
2. Put your offering under a microscope and take apart the pieces. Think about the individual pieces rather than the whole.
After brainstorming about your industry on a macro level, turn now to the individual parts of your offering. Think of your product or service as a management team. Just as you would expect every member of the team to pull his or her weight, every part of your offering should contribute toward your company’s mission statement and strategic objectives.
3. Look through your customer’s eyes. Put aside your needs and think about theirs.
Companies get bogged down with issues that the customer has no idea about—a shipping container held up in customs, a supplier that wants to renegotiate a contract, a new IT system that is taking forever to install. But that’s not what the customer sees, and what’s now what the customer cares about. Dig deep into your customer psyche, and push yourself to see through your customer’s eyes rather than your own. You’ll find solutions that customers may not know how to ask for by themselves.
Breakthrough innovation begins with breakthrough perspective. If you see the market in the same way that your competitors do, then you will solve problems in the same way that they do. So make it a reoccurring event—perhaps quarterly, or a few times a year—to step back from your day-to-day work and ask tough questions about where your offering and industry are going and what you can do to better advance your goals.
Jennifer Law is co-author of Costovation: Innovation That Gives Your Customers Exactly What They Want—And Nothing More (HarperCollins Leadership, August 14).
 Kirsten Korosec, “Lyft valuation hits $15.1 billion after fresh $600 million in funding,” TechCrunch, 27 June 2018