A good friend (and one of the sharpest marketing minds I know), Gunnar Branson, taught me that innovation is not driven by profit, but by irritation. By understanding what annoys our clients and asking them how they would like to make “it” (whatever it is) better, we innovate, differentiate, and deepen our relationships.  Yesterday, I came across a great reminder of this insight.

I was walking through the Loop to a board meeting when I came across one of those ubiquitous Chicago bike racks. Something bright red caught my eye. It was a bike lock that I had never seen. The design was so cool that I stopped to take a picture of it. (Non-cyclists, stay with me.)

Innovation in professional services firms

Abus Bordo Bike Lock

The lock is called the Bordo and is made by Abus, a German security company.

What makes it unique is that it folds like one of those old-fashioned measuring sticks you may have played with as a kid. The design addresses all of the things that irritate me about other locks: U-bolts (not versatile enough), cables (recoiling like a Slinky), chains (too heavy) and all the above (poor portability). On top of that, the Bordo has a higher security rating than a Navy Seal team! The engineers at Abus clearly understood their clients’ irritations.

Take away

I share this anecdote because it is important to constantly remember why clients hire us. How are you listening to and understanding your clients’ irritations?  Don’t confuse this with the trite “What keeps you up at night?” question. Next time you are with a client, ask them “What annoys you most about doing X in your business?” or  “If you could wave a magic wand and fix Y, how would you like to do it?”  Engage them. Brainstorm with them. I guarantee that they are not hearing these questions and the outcome will be positive.

Be prudent.

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