Mix It Up to Stimulate Innovation

We are always saying to ourselves…we have to innovate. We’ve got to come up with that breakthrough. In fact, the way software works…so long as you are using your existing software…you don’t pay us anything at all. So we’re only paid for breakthroughs.  Bill Gates

Most innovations are not the invention of something completely new, but rather an improvement on something in existence.

Change the Color

When General Motors offered cars that were any color you wanted, rather than Ford’s “any color as long as it’s black” approach, they immediately and critically dislodged Ford’s firm grip on the automotive marketplace. As fashion changed, Levi’s blue jeans had a hit on their hands when they went black. When SKYY vodka went to an unusual blue bottle, their distinctiveness soared.

Examine the Constraints

"You play the hand you're dealt." - C.S. Lewis

In any problem, business or personal, there will be some constraints that are real and some that are perceived. Each must be examined and explored so that perceived but unreal constraints can be removed, permitting clear thinking on the real ones that remain.

Make sure the constraints you believe are in place really are. List all such constraints that you believe are in place and carefully analyze them to make sure they are real. Often, when you take yourself through this part of the problem-solving process and look carefully at each constraint, you will expose false constraints that can be removed. This may offer quick and easy solutions on which you can act.

Ask Ridiculous Questions

"The power to question is the basis of all human progress." - Gandhi

Two decades ago, I had the opportunity to spend an entire morning with one of the highest-paid marketing consultants in the world. For three hours over coffee and breakfast, he barraged me with questions about how I did business. Each question was followed by another and then another at an exhausting pace. He then offered a suggestion or comment. As it happened, each thing he suggested for three straight hours was something I was already doing.

Finally, almost in exasperation, he asked, “What would your clients pay three times as much for?” I told him I didn’t know. Now he urged me to think, pointing out that if I charged all my existing clients three hundred percent more, I wouldn’t need to worry about attracting a bunch of new business. In one fell swoop, I would have reached my financial goals. I thanked him for his time, picked up the check for breakfast, and began to drive back home.

Using Speed as Your Strategy

"Ready, fire, aim is better than ready, aim, aim, aim." - Tom Peters

Speed and creativity are the entrepreneur’s greatest weapons. I have a passion for fast cars, but my passion for speed is not limited to pleasure behind the wheel. It includes my business because speed is an important strategy in business.

Two people whose books influenced my early career and made me err on the side of speed were Brian Tracy and Mark McCormick. Both men believe that most great ideas are killed or copied by others while people pursue perfection in developing them. I fully believe that a good idea executed quickly—even if it is less than perfect—will massively outperform a perfect idea that is implemented six months later. In addition, you’ll get months’ worth of leads that much earlier.

Major Mistakes

"I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that." Captain Edward J. Smith, HMS Titanic

Like most successful entrepreneurs, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, some of them major, some of them minor. What many new entrepreneurs don’t understand is that you learn much more from mistakes than successes. And you will make lots of mistakes.

The trick is to expect mistakes and make them cheaply enough that they don’t sink you. As long as you live to fight another day, you are succeeding and zoning in on where you’ll make your profits.

Let’s talk about the major pitfalls so that you’ll be able to learn from my mistakes and avoid them. At the peak of my martial arts business, one of my clients broke away and started his own organization, one that mimicked mine but charged 60% less than what I was charging. I thought I could stand up to that since, despite his rhetoric, I knew he had no money to promote his product.

Why Your Service Probably Sucks

"A satisfied customer - we should have him stuffed!" - Basil Fawlty, in the classic BBC series Fawlty Towers

No business wants to give bad service, but most do an alarmingly average job at best. Why? Take your pick.

  • Most businesses don’t have enough staff to give great service.
  • You haven’t defined what great service is.
  • Staff are not trained on how to give great service.
  • Staff are not rewarded for giving great service.
  • Staff are not empowered to give great service by making their own decisions to quickly resolve issues in the customers’ favor.
  • You don’t charge enough and therefore don’t pay enough to attract great talent to your business, or people who care.
  • Customers’ expectations are unreasonable to begin with.

Did I miss anything?