Thinking Something Different.
Simplify. Focus. INNOVATE
A quote that I often reference is from Albert Szent-Györgyi who said, “Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.”
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Tim Evans cited Southwest Airlines as having been a disruptive force in the airline industry because of co-founder Herb Kelleher’s ability to “think something different.”
“For over 40 years, Southwest Airlines has been a disruptive force in the airline industry, creating an entirely new category and a record 43 consecutive years of profitability,” Evans writes. “Traditional carriers like United, American, and Delta have a wide range of fares with multi-class cabins, heterogeneous fleets, and hub-and-spoke routes. Southwest’s innovation was to focus on low fares with one-class cabins, homogeneous fleets, and point-to-point routes.”
So what was the origin of Kelleher’s somewhat contrarian approach to running and marketing an airline? Evans contends that is was in how Kelleher thought about Southwest’s position in the marketplace.
“From the start, Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher saw his competition not as other airlines but as alternative forms of transportation, whether cars, buses, or trains. He wanted to enable people to fly who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to,” Evans writes.
Most people in business define their competitors as those companies that do exactly the same things as we do. Kelleher took the approach that his competitors were any companies that were trying to do the customers’ job to be done, which, in this case, was to get him or her from one place to another.
Evans writes, “Therefore his mental model was not how to gain market share from other airlines, but how to create a completely new market for air travel.
This wasn’t the only difference in mental models between Southwest and traditional carriers. Kelleher is known for saying: ‘I tell my employees that we’re in the service business, and it’s incidental that we fly airplanes.’ Other carriers fly airplanes that carry people. Southwest serves people using airplanes.”
The lesson in innovation here is that it often begins with, as Albert Szent-Györgyi said, “looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.”