Curiosity is the new competitive advantage

Andy Fromm, Chairman & CEO, Service Management Group

Curiosity is the new competitive advantage

When it comes to innovation, I’ve come to realize that it’s impossible to map out point A to point B. The journey isn’t direct, but rather a meandering path, full of redirections, twists, and turns. I strive to let curiosity drive me every day.

This mindset is what led me to work on my first book. I partnered with Diana Kander—New York Times best-selling author—who nailed it with her book All in Startup. The two of us started talking about the challenge so many companies face—of maintaining growth and success and not plateauing—and we kept coming back to that one word: curiosity.

From that exploration came the creation of our new book, The Curiosity Muscle. Rather than being a tome, the novel focuses on what’s most important. We share our knowledge through the story of a fictional chain of gyms that is struggling to stay connected to their customers. In the process, we break down these four questions essential to every company’s continued success:

  1. What are your blind spots?
  2. Are you focused on the right things?
  3. What can you test?
  4. How can you engage others to achieve your goals?

Too often we end up protecting what we have rather than continuing to be curious and pushing ourselves to innovation. The truth is, people are inherently dissatisfied. Customers want the next new thing—that’s better, faster, more customized.

It’s this desire for change that gets us out of bed in the morning. Great companies always look for ways to bring in new ideas to meet the ever-evolving needs of their customers. If we accept innovation and change as a requirement, the right path to get to that innovation is curiosity. Because the scary truth is: the only thing harder than getting to the top is staying there. Psychologically, success can be dangerous because it tricks us into thinking of ourselves as experts and kills our curiosity.

What are your blind spots? is the first essential question we answer in The Curiosity Muscle. Without curiosity about what our customers want, we develop blind spots about our business. These are tension points that competitors or some eager entrepreneur will be happy to exploit. In order to stay competitive in today’s fast-changing economy, companies need to figure out how to consistently find their blind spots and solve them to create new value for customers.

Now, these aren’t the same as weaknesses, because you can see your weaknesses. In fact, the trouble with blind spots is that they can hide in broad daylight, disguised as parts of your business you think are thriving, but have grown woefully inadequate. Seeing them requires an openness to being wrong—something not every person or company is willing to do. The obvious can become so engrained that we fail to see what’s right in front of us.

At SMG, blind spots are the reason for our business. It’s our job to listen to customers and employees, and help companies understand where they are falling short. It is by remaining curious that we are able to uncover these opportunities and help our clients take action.

By getting to the heart of the customer experience, customers tell you things you never even thought to ask. But you have to be open to hearing their feedback and acting on it. Because something that we think is best-in-class may not be. It is through constant checking, questioning, and validating that we are able to truly uncover our blind spots and give customers what they really want.

Ask. Listen. Act. Repeat.

About the Author

Andy Fromm is Chairman and CEO of Service Management Group (SMG)—a leading, global customer experience measurement firm that combines technology and insights for the world’s leading brands, including a host of Fortune 500 companies. Andy co-founded SMG in 1991 to help brands increase profitable sales by driving employee engagement and customer loyalty. Andy has served as an expert contributor in customer experience, employee engagement and brand research to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Fast Company.