My Best Ideas Come …… On a Train?

by | Mar 21, 2014

Some of my best ideas come to me when I am out of the office - in a car, but especially on a train or on a plane. How come? Well, the distractions of day-to-day are removed, the phone is off, wifi is down, and the brain can finally have some time and space to think strategically.

So I was really interested to read in Forbes what Amtrak in the USA is doing to enable innovation - not within their train system, but for its passengers. Amtrak is creating an “Amtrak Residency” program where writers can apply to Amtrak for a free ride to nowhere, literally, on their trains. The idea being that the movement of the train, the solitude, the sounds, the isolation, all of it, will improve one’s creative abilities.

There are two very interesting aspects to this story. One is that Amtrak listened to what some of its customers were saying - and then being agile enough to actually make a decision to implement a very out-of-the-box idea. According to Forbes, it appears the following took place

  • Writer, Alexander Chee, was interviewed by Pen America. They asked him where he felt the most creative, to which he said, “I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.”
  • Interview is published and read by New York City writer, Jessica Gross.
  • She immediately tweets, jokingly, that she wants an Amtrak residency.
  • Amtrak sees the tweet.
  • And then, to Amtrak’s massive credit, they invite Jessica to do just that. She does it, she writes about it, Amtrak gets lots of publicity, and then…
  • The railroad decides to formally institutionalize the idea with Amtrak Residency.

Wow! There aren't many organisations, especially a railroad, that can be so nimble and agile.

Second, Amtrak now has an entirely new application for an existing product. They changed absolutely nothing about their train, their service, the routes, or the tracks. The only thing they changed – and in the process will change for us too – is the way they thought about their product.

This is a great example of customer centricity, agility, and the ability to take an idea from concept through to execution.

Well done Amtrak! If only more organisations could take a leaf out of a train company like yours.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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