There has been a lot written and said recently about thinking outside the box, thinking outside the lines, and expanding your horizons. Steve Coats and Tim Heuer wrote a very good book titled “There is No Box” with compelling ideas about why and how companies and their executives need to think differently.
Marketers know that the way to bring attention to a product or service is to stand out from the crowd, do something differently, and deliver a compelling message in a unique way. During a recession when others are pulling back one line of thought is to increase investment in advertising. In many cases not only will you stand out from the crowd but you may be able to buy market share more economically than in times of economic growth. Unfortunately in many companies it does not happen. Opportunities are lost.
Why is it so hard to change?
My hunch is that each of us has a box we carry with us. For some of us the box is bigger than others. When times are rough, such as in this recession, human nature is to go where we are safe. Go hide in our box. Maintain the status quo. Ride it out until things get better.
We are missing a big opportunity. It is time to explode the box. It is time to explode your box and think creatively about the future.
When I was in the Navy we regularly prepared for our job by participating in “war games.” The crew of the submarine would simulate a situation where we would attack the enemy, accomplish our mission and hopefully live to fight another day. We learned a lot about our decision-making ability as a team, about the way we communicated with each other under stress, and about what tactics work and which ones didn’t. Our payoff was the confidence that we would know what to do if and when we ever needed to play the game for real. So why can’t we do this in business? Rather than retreat to our box lets explode the box!
What are the “givens” in your business?
The givens are the absolutes, the critical assumptions that if upset would be game changing. How would you compete if your givens suddenly changed?
What if you lost the patent protection on your best product? What if your best product received a failing grade in Consumer Reports? What if your competitor lowered the price on their product by 50%? What if your competitor figured out how to reach your customer in a new, cost effective way that made your current sales force obsolete?
These examples ask what would you do if your competitor moved first. Another way to look at the exercise is to ask what game changing moves can and should you consider to put your competitor on the defensive and build a sustainable advantage?
How do you get started?
The first rule is to perform the exercise proactively, before you need to in real life. That way you can make mistakes and learn from them. The second rule is to take the exercise seriously, consider performing it off site with few distractions (i.e. leave the Blackberry at the door). Gather your team together and ask yourself what you would do if a game changing event occurred to you and your business? How would you respond? How would you make lemonade out of lemons?
In this day when so many are running scared explode your box, change the rules of the game and have fun!
Until next time – All the best!
This article was first published in the Inside Indiana e-newsletter December 15, 2009.