How did the startup Harry’s appear out of nowhere to disrupt an $18 billion market and topple entrenched giants Gillette and Schick from their perches? How did some retail newcomers like The RealReal and incumbents like Walmart maintain growth and valuations while so many like Lord & Taylor, Brooks Brothers, MUJI, and J.C. Penney have dropped into bankruptcy like flies this year?

Why have so many fallen in the face of Amazon and yet Best Buy has been able to hold its own? What trick did Uber, Airbnb, WhatsApp, and Zoom use to overtake well-funded, entrenched competitors … and reinvent staid sectors?

Having answers to these questions is not a nice-to-have. It is urgent. The future of your career, business, organization depends on them. Whether you end up being the disrupted or the disruptor may depend on how well you can sense these inflection points and manage them skillfully.

At the heart of the issue is this:

We should stop listening … and start learning.

Few have studied strategic inflection points more profoundly than Rita McGrath. She lays out a set of tools and a process you can follow. It starts with engaging your customers differently: instead of just listening to them, start learning from them.

4 ways to engage your customers now

Below I lay out four principles Rita has proven work. If you want to learn more, directly from her, and if you also believe when it comes to really having an impact we need to stop listening to talking-heads on Zoom and start learning instead, we invite you to attend Rita’s virtual adventure, Seeing Around Corners, starting Dec. 2.

Read more by clicking here and use the code OUTTHINKER39 for a free $39 ticket, or $39 off any ticket.

With some of the world’s greatest business thinkers and thought leaders at the helm of this program, you can embark on a learning adventure with a cohort of your peers. Together you can achieve more.

To get started, Rita recommends four ways to engage your customers now:

Identify parallel needs

People rarely use your product just to fulfill one need. When I buy coffee in the morning, I’m after caffeine. When buy one on a cold afternoon, I’m looking to stay warm. Identifying these parallel needs reveals ways to overdeliver and differentiate your offering (e.g., double-caffeinated in the morning, extra hot in the afternoon).

What parallel needs are customers looking to meet and how can you turn that into your advantage?

Identify purchasing patterns

How customers make a decision will reveal ways to open up more demand. For example, for most of the year I pick my gas station by whichever is closest when my “low fuel” light turns on. But when my kids are in the car – we just took a 22-hour journey down to New Orleans from Connecticut – I might drive right past the closest gas station looking for one that has a bigger market promising a larger snack offering. Perhaps your gas station should advertise snacks during the holidays and prices during rush hour.

How are your customers’ purchasing patterns shifting and how can you use that to get ahead of your competition?

Observe how customers actually use the product

Baking soda was becoming a commodity that was hard to differentiate, or charge more for, than sugar or flour. But when Arm & Hammer saw that customers were using it to do things like freshen refrigerators, whiten their teeth, and clean their bathrooms, a multitude of new product possibilities opened up.

What opportunities are revealed by observing how your customers use your product?

Identify customers’ perceptions of risk

Buying cars, furniture, or any large-ticket item can be scary because you often cannot assess whether you made a good financial decision until long after the purchase. We worry that the salesperson might sell us a lemon or that we will find the same couch available at a lower price elsewhere later.

These insights are what led CarMax to disrupt the automobile retailing market (salespeople are paid a flat commission for each car sold, regardless of price, so aren’t motivated to upsell you to a 2-year-old BMW when you really want a 4-year-old Ford) and “bed-in-a-box” retailers like Casper to transform the mattress business.

What risk are your customers losing sleep over?


These four approaches can help you truly learn from you customers rather than just listen to them, to truly walk in their shoes. It turns you from an observer to a friend.

If you want to learn directly from Rita McGrath how to implement this tool, and how to turn its insights into transformational strategic moves, join us at Insight to Impact. We launched this learning experience to move beyond the talking-head webinars we are all getting too much of these days.

By joining Rita’s Seeing Around Corners adventure, you will get:

  1. Personal instructions from Rita
  2. Live Q&A with her
  3. A peer group of people just like you
  4. A cutting-edge learning platform

We designed the experience following Rita’s insight that to really create something amazing, to have an impact, to change things, we need to stop listening and start learning.

As a member of the Outthinker community, you get a free $39 Traveler ticket (or $39 off any other ticket) simply by using the code OUTTHINKER39.

Photo by Evie Shaffer from Pexels