What do J.Crew and KFC have in common?

October 20, 2014

"You wouldn't think J.Crew and KFC would have anything in common, but evidently, they do." This quote from Mick McConnell, global director of Chipotle's retail design team, was made at the conclusion of the inaugural RetailSpaces retreat last month in Key West, FL.

RetailSpaces is an invite-only event for store development, design and construction executives. The inaugural retreat brought together an eclectic mix of companies like Whole Foods, Advance Auto Parts, Microsoft, Chuck E. Cheese, Cartier, T-Mobile, Life Time Fitness, Wendy's and dozens of others for quality conversation and networking. Compared to the mundane presentation format typically found at industry conferences, this event utilized a laid-back, dialogue- driven approach.

So what do KFC and J.Crew have in common? Unfortunately, I don't have the answer as the quote was provided on a post-event evaluation (yeah, I know clickbaitheadline). However, the key takeaway here is the advantage of looking beyond our everyday surroundings to find inspiration and validation for the work we do. While there is an undeniable benefit in similar businesses coming together (benchmarking, forming alliances); it is not as valuable when you are in search of fresh ideas, and in fact, often leads to sameness and mediocrity.

McConnell's quote also attests to the power of live events and face-to-face collaboration. Virtual offerings will never come close to providing an effective platform for the cross-pollination of ideas and the connecting of companies and disciplines that do not traditionally mix.

This event gave participants the chance to draw on the experiences of other like-minded, yet different, professionals to explore solutions for universal challenges in retail. It connected Chick-fil-A with H&M (fast food meets fast fashion!), which could be a meaningful connection as Chick-fil-A begins to roll-out it's first restaurants in NYC, where H&M NA is headquartered.

Marcus Lemonis, star of CNBC's The Profit, was one of the featured speakers at the retreat. The theme of cross-pollination was echoed throughout his candid beachside talk where he explained his 3 keys to business success (People, Process, Product!). Lemonis owns dozens of businesses in unrelated industries such as automotive, apparel, health & beauty and baked goods. As fans of The Profit know, he frequently draws upon the unique knowledge obtained from his diverse portfolio to find solutions to challenges in the new ventures he pursues.

As Tom Kelley from IDEO said in his book The Ten Faces of Innovation, "Cross-pollinators can create something new and better through the unexpected juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts. They often innovate by discovering a clever solution in one context or industry, then translating it successfully to another."

If we discount what is going on in other industries, we limit our opportunities for growth and expansion. Whether it's technology, HR, design or marketing, there is a wealth of fresh ideas that can be applied to your business today...you just sometimes have to look beyond the usual suspects for inspiration.