I have been getting some feedback on my prior post on
"Peanutbuttering" which was on how to change direction in the current environment. It made me think a bit more and I came up with 6 more specific ways to do that from some of that feedback:
1/ add a new product line to serve the market that your currently serve (ie. start selling solar panels if you are in the home improvement business)
2/ take an existing product to a new or adjacent market or industry vertical
3/ upgrade management and staff team toward more hard ROI roles (sales vs administration)
4/ hire less staff, outsource more (outsource your payroll and HR or IT if you haven't already done that)
5/ acquire a similar company or an adjacent product or market company and cross sell your products to your existing customer bases
6/ sell to another company to achieve one of the above
I am sure the list goes quite long, but the basic idea is the same: take what you've been doing, and do it in a new manner. All of these can cost some serious money, something that is very dear right now.
So here's something new: how about, instead of spending cash, "spend some imagination" and go beyond tactics to a strategic change?
For inspiration, I want to give you an example, from a former business school professor of mine from Columbia, Cliff Schorer, who coined that phrase (I think) and tells this story in his class:
A student approached him one day in his office about his idea to manage a horrible problem: when he takes a bath, he often forgets to turn off the water, so the tub overflows. Or the student has to wait there, wasting time as the tub fills up. So he invented a sensor that would optically check for rising water levels and automatically turn off the water when it had reached a predetermined level. The product was going to cost $100 plus installation. My prof said to the student: good luck. And thought to himself: How big of a problem can that be? Who would pay that type of money for this solution?
A couple years later, Cliff runs into this student on the street, getting out of a limo. Cliff asked the student how things went. It turns out the student, after a lot of trying to sell this product gave up. People were not interested, given the time, cost, problem size. But he did run into a few water faucet companies that mentioned to him that they sold a lot of higher tech faucets to restaurants. The student began to think that, perhaps, if he designed his sensor a bit differently, say turned on when hands were underneath a faucet, there might be big demand for saving water in high traffic areas-- in say, restaurants.
Now millions of units are sold a year to facilities all over the planet. He gets a penny royalty each time the faucet is turned on.
I probably botched this story, but the gist is still there: by being persistent this student found the big problem with a solid solution, and ultimately was successful by shifting his strategy slightly. Too often entrepreneurs give up on their baby, when success is just a little imagination away. It didn't take much money to change, but it did take some imagination, as well as going down a few blind alleys, to come up with the successful formula.
With the downturn, and more possibly to come, business models are being upended. Don't be afraid to spend some imagination (or borrow others people's imagination!) in coming up with a new way to use what you have already built. Its not about money, its about using you head, and listening to what the marketplace is saying it needs, and getting more strategic.
Sometimes that's scarier than spending money on something you "know" should just "work". Its scary to challenge your core beliefs, and that of your partners, investors, managers and staff. Its tough challenging investors who "bought" your last vision, and now you want to change, and they could be resistant. You might feel that it's an admission that somehow you don't have all the answers.
Guess what? You probably don't, no one does, at least not all of them.
In critical times like now, some people (including perhaps yourself) are more open to some out of the box thinking. It's the end of the year, and 2009 is uncertain. Might as well explore that a bit. Brainstorming is a great way to do that, especially if you tend towards control freakedness; now is a great time to get over that ego, and stimulate imagination in your business. Put everything on the table, and don't allow ideas to be destroyed by arguing them immediately, as they are mentioned; evaluate later when all the ideas are out there in full view. When brainstorming there is no such thing as a "stupid" idea. I am not saying you need to hire a consultant or do a Kumbaya mega expensive offsite. Try using some big paper pads, magic markers, and a conference room, with your partners, staff, investors, customers and advisers. Order in pizza. Maybe some beer.
I make light of it, but, if interested, I do suggest you bone up a bit on how to conduct a brainstorming session; it's not rocket science. It takes some energy to overcome the inertia of existing thought, but it's well worth the effort. Right now, what this country, and many companies (and governments!) need to do-- so don't be afraid to spend some imagination.
[For further inspiration on imagination, check out this Guy Kawasaki video. I've seen it a couple times in person, and you might have as well, as he gives it hundreds of times a year, but it's still inspiring to see, especially in darker times. The busier we get, sometimes we forget why we do what we do in the first place, and Guy's video post reminded me of this the other day.]