Our culture of “If you work hard you will succeed, and if you aren’t succeeding, then you should work harder” has it’s toll. The truth is that we aren’t always aware of the very real cost our ambitions take on our mental and emotional health.Read More
The truth of the matter is that in our overzealous “fake it till we make it” ambition, “dress for success” professionalism, and constant need to look like we know what we are doing, we have made the terrible mistake of giving our young people the false impression we actually know what is going on.Read More
At the end of what is usually a three-to-six month marathon of meetings, revisions, and heated debates over the right shade of blue a brand is born into the world. It is at this point of having all this sexy and shiny new material for your business that the shocker hits you… It looks great, but now what?Read More
So you’ve probably heard the phrase: “Work ON Your Business, Not Just In It.” But many business leaders struggle with finding a solid compass by which to know if they are actually improving their business, or just throwing spaghetti against a wall trying one fad or another.Read More
Each time I start, I hear the same thing: “We are too different, normal marketing doesn’t work for us.” Well, you’re wrong, not necessarily about “being different” but about what “normal marketing” is. The truth is that MOST business is B2B and MOST marketing is B2B.Read More
Perhaps you are familiar with the term often thrown around by business strategists and consultants called “market driven.” It describes the principle of giving your customers what they want instead of expecting them to buy what you want them to. Of course, in that comparison being a “market driven” business is certainly better than being a “delusional” business. However, there are two strategies which have proven to work even better.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” - Henry Ford
The problem with being “market driven” is that the market doesn’t really know what it wants, or really needs. When businesses think it terms of what people want, they tend to serve the lowest common denominator and do nothing to help humanity progress forward. The most successful businesses give people what they never knew they wanted, but now can’t live without.
The entrepreneurs that achieve this are very few, and you probably are well aware of them. Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Thomas Crapper, and whoever made Wonder Bread. Up until they introduced their products to market, we never knew we needed them, we didn’t ask for them, and now we can’t live without them.
So how do you get insight into your market? Well, you have it or you don’t. If you don’t, best be honest with yourself now. If you think you are going to be the next Steve Jobs without a deep keen understanding of your customers to the point where you can anticipate their needs, then you need to find another strategy. Insight can’t be bought (but it can be invested in).
If you lack insight, this is your best bet. Thomas Edison was probably the first to try this approach. Google has been the biggest champion of this strategy as of late. Market sourced is kind of like throwing spaghetti against the wall, but the wall is your market and the spaghetti is your market’s own ideas.
Google has launched and killed more projects than you can shake a stick at. Remember Google Wave, Google Notebook, Google Reader, or Google Hygiene? (OK, I made up that last one.) Google says “yes” quickly and “no” decisively. Google makes it easy for the early adopters and engaged segment of their market to help develop projects through community leadership.
Market sourced means you develop a responsive cycle of listening, testing, and responding to your market. Launch less-than-perfect products to an organized and engaged segment of your market, see if it takes off, listen to feedback, adjust as needed. Products are not so much invented as they are discovered.
You Could Just Be Competent
Of course all these strategies are options businesses take when they are finding demand wane, or are looking to grow into new markets. When in doubt you could just do something “in demand” better than everyone else.
There is nothing more beautiful, or more powerful, than coming together to solve a problem. When we get frustrated, infuriated or slightly homicidal during a meeting it is because something is getting in the way of solving the problem at hand. Ironically, the worst resource for solving a problem is also our most abundant: opinions. Opinions represent our worst collaborative habits. Habits which, if we can learn to break, will greatly increase our collective productivity.
Anatomy of a Problem
A problem exists in the absence of understanding. Problems cause us pain, if we understood them we would have already solved them. If we have not solved a problem, we must not understand it.
“But wait!” you say, “I know what my problem is!” That may be, but knowing about something does not mean you understand it. I know my head hurts, but I probably don’t really understand the biology behind my headache. If I did understand the biology behind my headache, I would be able to take action to avoid it or stop it. If you have a lingering problem, it is because you may be aware of it, but you don’t understand it.
When we meet together to solve a problem, the only productive goal of the meeting is to first completely understand a problem and then devise steps to address it. Of course, many of us miss even this first step, making our meetings about passing around blame for a problem, denying the problem or complaining about a problem. Opinions live and thrive in all these alternative agendas, but we are going to focus on the less obvious problem with opinions.
So the first step of solving a problem is agreeing that we must first try to understand it. Most people who get to this phase feel pretty good about themselves and their maturity level. Indeed, coming together to understand a problem is a great first step. However, opinions still worm their way into our civil conversation and mess things up.
Anatomy of an Opinion
“There are no bad ideas.” seems like a good declaration to create an open environment for discussion, and it is mostly true. The problem is that opinions and ideas are not the same thing. An idea is an open ended piece of inspiration, and opinion is a closed declaration.
On the journey towards forming an understanding, there are very productive things to gather: facts, experience, insight and perspectives. We need each other to collect enough information to form an understanding of a problem. We each have different perspectives and offer different information.
A perspective says, “From my point of view, I see this.” An opinion says, “I declare my point of view is reality.” A perspective is a helpful contribution to add another piece to the puzzle of reality, an opinion assumes it already knows reality. Most opinions are nothing more than perspectives offered up as fact.
Opinions would seek to end the journey to understanding. Worse, they create emotional confusion and wear us down during collaboration. When someone offers their perspective, it is offered with an emotional expectation to be listened to. When someone offers their opinion, it is presented with an emotional obligation to be accepted. A person’s perspective can be added to without insult, but an opinion is contradicted and usually taken with offense.
The Three Architects
Three architects are called together by the mayor to design a house upon a hill in the middle of a village. Each architect lives on a different side of the hill. One side slopes down, one side is flat and one side overlooks a waterfall. Each architect, arrogant of their talents, insists the house be designed to accommodate the hill as they know it.
The mayor gets tired of their arguing and has each draw straws to determine the order each may try and build their house. One after another they each build their version of the house, and each one collapses and is completely unstable. Finally the mayor gives up, “I can’t believe our three best architects can’t build a house on a hill.”
The village idiot finds the discarded plans of the three architects. He laughs to himself as he cuts up the three plans and tapes them together according to each side of the hill. He comes before the mayor and says he can build the greatest house the village has ever seen. The mayor is skeptical, but agrees simply to humiliate the architects.
The house is built, and to the wonder of all, is beautiful, stable and completely innovative to take full advantage of each part of the hill. The mayor decides to make it his own home and holds a festival in honor of the idiot, forcing the architects to host the festival in his honor.
Powerful Problem Solving
If understanding is a thousand dollar bill, then insight is a hundred, perspective is a five’r, and opinion is a penny. We need different perspectives to gain insight, we gather insight until we have understanding. Opinions are both intellectually and emotionally distracting. The more we learn to eliminate opinions, the more effectively we work together.
If we are honest with ourselves, we can see that we use opinions to try and look smart, establish dominance or feel important, but never really to solve a problem. Our perspectives can be useful, our insights are valuable and understanding qualifies us as paid consultants, but our two cents is probably not even worth the penny we were paid for it. At least, that’s my opinion…
P.S. This is also why political pundits are pretty much just a blight on our society.