We’ve all read autobiographies by ordinary people who came up with great ideas that are now an established part of our high streets.

We’ve all read autobiographies by ordinary people who came up with great ideas that are now an established part of our high streets. They invented whole new categories where there was nothing before and came up with great brands that really captured customers’ imagination.

New and disruptive ideas keep an industry from going stale so the big question is, how would you react if someone came to you with a great idea?

If you look at some of our retailing greats, many haven’t got a degree. If that’s the case, why have they done well? And what’s the difference between a businessman and an entrepreneur? (An entrepreneur is often someone without any, or few, formal qualifications who goes on to do well in business). I think the two main skills that separate them are that the entrepreneur has great powers of observation and of empathy.

They observe things that cause them to ask simple questions such as “Why not?” and “What if?”

The power of empathy allows them to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and ask important questions such as “If I were a customer, what would I want? How would I feel?”. They become the customer and anticipate their needs even before the customer does.

The businessman, by comparison, wants to do things based on market research, spreadsheets, interviews and business plans. Apple, Nike and IKEA famously don’t rely on market research, they use empathy and become the customer.

I’ve never used market research because I believe it is for insecure middle managers who need to justify their decisions and who are afraid of making mistakes.

So back to the question, what would you do if someone working on the shopfloor - someone who spends all their time with customers - approached you with an idea based on nothing more than a gut feeling?

What if they came up with a great idea that could add value to your business? Would you listen? Your business needs all the help it can get, so would you greet them with open arms?

I’ve met lots of retail executives. Body language is a wonderful thing and I can tell you that too many would not give the guy on the shopfloor the time of day. They might listen and nod politely but they are probably thinking about the next meeting or how they can turn them down without offending them.

It seems that people are happier to accept a strategy when it is delivered by a consultant who has charged lots of money, interviewed lots of customers and backed it up with reams of market research.

Entrepreneurs believe it before they see it whereas managers need to see to believe, so the easiest way to be right is to take very few risks.

Entrepreneurs are the people with the vision and some of the best ideas come from just ordinary people.

Encourage people to come to you with ideas, but make it easy for them to approach you and then listen to them - the results may really surprise you.