I find inspiration rarely comes from obsessing about the competition.... | by Wes Kao 🏛

Wes Kao 🏛


2 months ago

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I find inspiration rarely comes from obsessing about the competition. Here are 7 powerful places to look instead:

If you’re building something new, you can’t only look at what’s immediately around you. Your own industry might give you some ideas, but staying too narrow can lead to incremental improvements. To challenge your assumptions, look to new sources of inspiration.

In 2014, I learned this firsthand when building the altMBA with bestselling author Seth Godin. We intentionally avoided looking at online education players in the market. Instead we studied organizations that made people feel zealous & focused on principles rooted in psychology

The benefit? We had many analogies to draw on when making decisions. And We didn’t copy any one source. We took a bunch of ideas--then remixed & added our own experience, instincts, and strengths. Here are 7 unexpected places we looked for inspo & how it shaped our thinking:

1. Military • Identifiable signals: haircut, uniforms, lingo • Strict process, no exceptions • Basic training is grueling on purpose The struggle leads to transformation. Takeaway: Inspired the altMBA challenge coin, grueling projects, and mandatory schedule.

2. CrossFit It's the opposite of Fight Club: The first rule of CrossFit is to always talk about CrossFit. If you have friends who do CrossFit, you know what I mean. “People like us work out until we puke. We don’t need fancy gyms.” Takeaway: Inspired ideas for word of mouth.

3. Religion • Dress codes • Can’t eat certain foods • Religious holidays • Church on Sundays These are ways to bring up your religion with outsiders. Example: someone at a party might say “do you have kosher options?” Takeaway: Gave ideas around insiders vs outsiders

4. Startup Weekend A 54-hour weekend event where groups form teams with strangers & develop a working prototype. Takeaway: Inspired intense deadlines of shipping projects within a day with your altMBA learning pod.

5. Dance-a-thons These were popular in the US in the 1920s. As concentrated endurance contests, they gathered the community for an intense sprint. Some ran for 100+ hours straight! Takeaway: Inspired the altMBA workshop structure of intense sprinting.

6. Fraternities • Shared struggle leads to bonding, cohesion, solidarity • Cognitive dissonance (“if I sacrificed I must want this”) • Status of pledges vs actives Takeaway: Inspired design of the altMBA so students would feel closest w/ learning pods from their first week

7. Alcoholics Anonymous Stanford research showed AA members develop close bonds with each other. Meetings aren’t led by professionals so it fosters a sense of trust between members. Takeaway: Inspired peer-led groups in the altMBA.

To build something new, find different sources of inspiration. While you’re here… Innovation is a big part of your work as a founder--as is figuring out what customers want and driving growth. To level up, check out these three new @MavenHQ courses:

User Research Bootcamp: Master UX research fundamentals with Heatherlee Nguyen. Previously Senior UX Designer at Optum, Mayo Clinic & Best Buy: t.co/B1chd30kLD

Design Problems Worth Solving: Define problems customers will pay you to solve with @cafulezi. Previously Director of Product at Sony, Time Warner, & General Assembly: t.co/buS90q5c1D

Startup Growth Strategy: Build an actionable strategy for organic growth with @katka_s. Previously Head of Growth at WhatsApp & Facebook: t.co/mrtK8oukbE

Check out the full collection of courses for founders this Fall Season on Maven: t.co/XmmMtL6nXm

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