Looking for product inspiration? Look way beyond your own industry.

I always love reading about IDEO’s process. In his post To Transform Your Industry, Look at Someone Else’s Owen Sanderson explains the concept of analogous research: a form of exploration that takes a team outside of its industry to find inspiration in the ways others have tackled similar challenges. He explains how they took some hospital staff to an airport to observe the customer experience:

We started at check-in. The hospital team was issued mock boarding passes and asked to check-in for their upcoming flights. They had the option of using a kiosk, their phone, or speaking to a real, live person.

Almost immediately the team began to discover parallels between the patient experience and the traveler experience. The surgeons on the team quickly noted how many different pathways there were for customers—options for families, those with disabilities, and frequent fliers. “We only have one option for our patients, but patients aren’t all the same,” one surgeon said.

I’ve found this type of research useful for digital products outside the service industry as well. The field of architecture, for example, can teach us so much about things like designing for permanence. This article is a good reminder that as product managers we shouldn’t just look at our competitors for inspiration. We should also study products in industries that might not look anything like ours, but aim to solve similar problems than we do.