Home Advice For The Young At Heart Business Innovation In A Pandemic: Compete With Those You Admire

Business Innovation In A Pandemic: Compete With Those You Admire


by Alex Varricchio, co-owner of UpHouse

Comparing ourselves to our competitors in order to figure out how best to one-up them is natural — it’s what drives us all in business. We feel threatened when our competitors do something different (especially if it appears to work) and we constantly obsess over what their next move may be. This line of thinking, however, leads us to follow in their tracks rather than forge our own path.

The most effective way to create distance from your competition is to set your sights on a new competitor — someone who operates in a completely different industry from your own. By trying to come up with ideas while putting yourself in their shoes, you’ll get an outsider’s perspective on your own industry.

Because the next big industry disrupter — for every single industry — doesn’t usually come from within the industry, it comes from an outsider.

And, most business leaders won’t see it coming.

That’s how Airbnb managed to blindside the hotel industry. The concept was a great new idea by two friends who did not work in hospitality.

If COVID-19 has forced you to rapidly rethink your business strategy and target audiences, try one of these three activities to generate some fresh ideas from unexpected places. I lead a small marketing agency and have shared examples from our industry, but these exercises can work for any business or vertical.

1. Host a Cross-Industry Brainstorm.

If you know professionals from different industries, invite them to get together to solve a business challenge. (Even with today’s social distancing rules, it’s an easy thing to do by video conference rather than in a boardroom.) This concept brings a variety of problem-solvers to the table, each with a unique perspective to the same challenge.

We do this once a year to benefit a local non-profit organization. We gather marketers from a number of different industries to brainstorm new marketing ideas in support of our chosen organization. Every person arrives with a different point of view and different brainstorming styles — the end result of which is new and innovative solutions to the marketing problem.

If you convene a cross-industry brainstorm, you’ll get focused attention on your challenge and dozens of viable ideas. If you are invited to participate in one, you’ll get a break from your work routine, discover different brainstorming styles, and maybe even pick up some new ideas to try in your own business.

2. Read Another Industry’s Trade Publication.

Every industry has them and every one of them regularly publishes articles interviewing established and emerging players in the industries they represent. Pick an industry and take the time to read what is happening in their industry mags.

What are they doing to innovate? What trends are they watching? What technology are they adopting? How are they engaging customers?

You may have to stretch your imagination to make connections between their industry and yours so make sure you’re in the right headspace before you start. Again, with social distancing forcing many businesses to set up in home offices, the change in scenery and routine will help you think with a different mindset.

3. Interview a Marketer in a Different Industry.

We regularly interview creative professionals for blogs posts for our website. It gives us a chance to expand our network and taps into a well of fresh thinking that never runs dry.

Interviewing another marketer helps you discover proven strategies in other industries, and it helps you gain the confidence to implement them in your own company.

While it’s always nice to be able to offer to treat that someone to a cup of coffee, this strategy is also something that can easily be done by phone or video conference. It’s also something that many businesses and marketers likely have a little more time for these days.

The goal with these three exercises is to find a new source of inspiration and a new standard of innovation to which you can aspire. So give it a try – you might be surprised by the new partnerships, audiences or strategies you uncover.


Alex Varricchio is the co-owner of UpHouse, a marketing agency. He and business partner Kiirsten May have also written a book (The Proximity Paradox) and developed a crowdsourced brainstorming web app (crainstorm.com). In 2019, Alex was named the Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.