Women Shoe Shoppers and Innovation - what do they have in common?

Women Shoe Shoppers and Innovation - what do they have in common?

Create March 30, 2014 / By Justin Brady
Women Shoe Shoppers and Innovation - what do they have in common?

Could the unreasonable expectations women shoe shoppers have be the formula for creative problem solving?

Throughout the years, one of my more interesting jobs was when I sold women's shoes in a Minneapolis suburb. It was a typical low-paying retail job, but the store was near my apartment, I loved the people I worked with and I actually learned a few great lessons, the most important of which: how women shoe shop and it's application to creative problem solving.

If you ever want a great collection of women's shoes, go to the Roseville, Herberger's. Their monstrous collection takes up almost one entire side of the store. One particular winter day, I was helping three women simultaneously with shoes, all considering multiple styles and sizes, totaling around 20 boxes. On top of that it was winter, or boot season in Minnesota. These big heavy boots were nearly impossible to retrieve, occasionally falling off the shelves, out of their boxes, “kicking” me in the face. That day as inspiration literally struck me, I noticed a fundamental difference in the way men and women shoe shop.

The majority of men are simple creatures when it comes to shoe shopping: they decide if they need a black, brown or athletic shoe and go looking. Nine times out of ten, if they find a shoe that fits and the price is right, it gets tossed into the back of their car within minutes. With a woman however there is a whole art to this matter. Before she goes out shopping and even before looking on the web, she goes through thoughtful mental preparation. She thinks about outfits to match, comfort, how it will elongate her legs and friends potential reactions. She imagines what this perfect shoe will look like, where the stitching will be, what color, and how it will look in the dim light of a lunar eclipse.

Only after this process she embarks on her quest to seek out that perfect shoe — the one she crafted in her mind. There’s only one problem, that shoe doesn't exist. Despite this, she will search, trying on shoe after shoe, pushing through exhaustion, diminishing options and sales reps who are minutes away from certain death. Through all doubt and reason though, something miraculous happens: she finds a shoe that somehow meets or even exceeds her unreasonable expectations, it’s a euphoric experience.

Could the only thing holding back your team be the right pair of shoes? As much as my wife would like to think so, there's a bigger lesson here. Like a woman's shoe shopping process, the best creative ideas start out with unreasonable expectations. On a recent web project, my developer told me our early concepts weren't achievable. Instead of being reasonable however, I replied "I know deep down this can be done, and I know you can do it. Tell me what I can do to get us there." Less than a week later (and 12 additional project hours) he blew my unreasonable expectations out of the water!

Even the most amazing teams can't see past the limitations they've put on themselves, we're all guilty. Even well known product design firm, IDEO states “Encourage Wild Ideas.” The wild ideas are easy, but no one in their right mind, wants to encourage them. That’s difficult! Wild ideas are, by their very nature, unreasonable and this is where most leaders stop.

You will ask yourself if you expect too much, especially if you care about your team, but remember: Only when you have unreasonable expectations are you met with unbelievable results.

Justin Brady likes to write, speak and work with loving leaders on how to organically cultivate creativity in their organization. Find him on Twitter @justinbrady. This piece and others like it can be found on his blog.

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