Joel Landau is the Chairman and Founder of The Allure Group, a New York-based healthcare group of skilled nursing and rehab facilities.
Business ideas are elusive and apt to simply appear out of thin air. Where a leader is concerned, it’s a matter of keeping your eyes open, observing the world around you and understanding how you can put your own personal stamp on things.
Consider how I generated the idea for The Allure Group, a network of skilled nursing facilities that I founded in 2012. It was the result of the deficiencies I observed in the nonprofit nursing homes that purported to provide great care as my elderly grandfather approached the end of his life. I believed I could enrich the lives of the elderly and provide better care.
Many ideas can come from outside your company: from understanding the bigger picture, keeping one’s ear to the ground, seeing what others are doing and putting it to good use. In fact, it happens in every industry. One escalator company has drawn inspiration from the mining industry when installing its product in shopping malls, and the in-line skating market has benefited from referencing the tools used in television for extreme stunts. The point, again, is that if you are striving for innovation and growth, searching for new ideas beyond the confines of your business or industry can lead to significant advancements.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, touched on many of those same themes in her book, Think Outside the Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart Innovation at a Time. She emphasizes that the challenges of this day and age demand advanced leadership skills. The usual approaches to problem-solving are no longer going to cut it, and it’s incumbent upon companies to venture outside their walls to find solutions. At the same time, she wrote that collaboration within companies has never been more important. No one can afford to stay within their silos or sectors anymore; the problems are simply too enormous, too daunting.
Companies simply must look for ideas outside their doors. To do that, it is incumbent upon leaders to be aware of industry trends, certainly, but I have found that it goes beyond that:
• You must surround yourself with people who will challenge you and open your eyes to new ideas. During my earliest entrepreneurial ventures, I tended to hire friends and family members, the result being that we lacked fresh perspectives. Rather than growing, we stagnated. I vowed never to let that happen again, and at Allure have assembled a leadership team that has consistently offered new insights. Some of those are the results of regular visits to each of our facilities, where they learn about day-to-day operations from healthcare professionals as well as the residents themselves. What are they seeing? What are they happy with? What can be done better? But others are the results of simply hiring people who think differently than I do.
• You must study your competitors. At Allure, we are forever striving to stay on the cutting edge of innovation, but in order to do so, we must continue to be cognizant of what our competitors are doing so that we might adapt those ideas to our own means. Being aware of competitors can also enable you to differentiate yourself. You can create niche programs they do not offer and service your customers in innovative ways.
As mentioned, I’d like to think we’ve done both those things at my company, that we have, in fact, broken down barriers, solicited the opinions of one and all, not only while finding our way through the uncharted waters of this healthcare crisis but also well before. That is evidenced by some of the technology we had in place before the pandemic began. For example, tablets were at all the bedsides within our facilities. At first, residents used them for entertainment and relaxation purposes, but when governmental lockdowns were imposed, those same tablets enabled those within our facilities to communicate with their loved ones. In addition, we dispense hand-held devices to discharged residents for improved transitional care.
Both things also underscore that effective leadership means looking beyond our walls. In her book, Kanter put a new twist on an old joke about the long-ago dance partners Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — how Ginger was a superior dancer because she could do everything Fred did while moving backward in high heels. Kanter took the metaphor one dance step further in an interview about her book, stating that dancing backward is similar to people tackling problems that require innovation because you can’t see the pathway. It requires you to “hone your leadership.”
To do that, you have to not only leave your ego at the door while soliciting ideas from those within your organization but also venture out that door. And once you do so, you need to look around, see what ideas are in vogue and adapt those to your own company’s purposes. The importance of doing so has been brought home during these troubling times, but in reality, that approach is effective at any juncture.