Without even knowing it, we often miss the greatest opportunities for growth simply by the way we look for those opportunities.
When you think about growth, does your focus go to driving sales of your existing product lines or do you allow your imagination to wander and explore possibilities? How do you deconstruct and reintegrate your view of your customers and markets to open the world of possibilities for your business?
Growing From Your Core
When searching for growth opportunities how far do you allow your vision to stretch?
There are three fundamental principles to competitiveness, which can either be a driver of growth or a ‘locked box’ which entraps you and limits vision, opportunities and growth. By this I mean:
- As a fundamental growth principle, it is easier to expand your offerings to your existing customers rather than go out chasing totally new markets. But can you develop threads that can link a growth path across an expanding customer base and allow you to build a diverse but strong business?
- We also say that to compete effectively you must leverage your unique strengths and surely these lie in the markets you are working in presently? But on the other hand, until you have stepped away from your present reality and allowed your mind the freedom to explore, you really won’t know what is possible and how you may be able to create new positions of strength.
- And the final aspect of growth is purpose. Many businesses do not have a unifying and directive purpose but a well-crafted purpose can seed growth and help you find opportunities. If your purpose is focused on meeting needs then it should support an inquisitive mind and not railroad it down a single track.
To allow your vision to reach far and wide, I would recommend starting with your existing customer group who you have built a relationship with and ask: what next and where to?
You need to unpack this existing relationship with that customer group, through identifying what needs you presently meet, how they may be evolving or impacted by change, and what new needs may be arising.
And then you can consider how you may reconfigure your offerings to connect with that customer in new ways and, thereby, create new markets.
This is a stepping stone approach to growth, stepping out from your core in an ever-expanding concentric circle, introducing new customers and new services and products, compounding on your foundational strength. It may seem like micro steps at the beginning but when you look back after several years you will realise how far your business has developed from where it was.
Using Personas To Explore Reality
The concept of personas has been around for many years. Here is one of the original definitions: ‘Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modelled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behaviour, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions.’
In an earlier article on recreating your business, I provided some guidance on how personas may be used to map out events that may provide insight into growth opportunities.
In a strategic business planning exercise, typically an ‘environmental scan’ of some type would be undertaken to recognise major events or changes that may impact the business. Usually, it is the business or the industry that is the focus of this exercise. It can be a very inward looking exercise, with the prime question being: what is the impact on my business and profits?
However, the continued growth of your business is totally dependent on the value you deliver to your customers. And your customers exist in an evolving and changing world.
Placing your customer persona at the centre of your ‘environmental scan’ and consider what is occurring that might impact various aspects of that persona can profoundly change your view of your customers’ world and the opportunities that may exist.
Further, your reality of the current value you provide to your customers is subject to entropy the moment you commenced delivering it. Its real value is diminishing and your ability to recognise its value is severely hampered as you are viewing it from within.
A solution is to step outside your reality and deconstruct your customers’ world, as outlined above. This will allow you to understand what is changing in their world and how you may alter your competitive posture to maintain your competitiveness.
Being Creative In Your Search
There is an interesting thesis written by Col. John R. Boyd titled ‘Destruction and Creation’, which provides a good perspective on how to approach creativity in a way that opens the imagination and allows you to discover possibilities that you otherwise may not see. Boyd was a United States Air Force pilot and, later in his career, a key military strategist and his thinking is quite remarkable.
What follows is my take on some of his key points relevant to the theme of creativity.
It starts with the individual:
- The actions we take as individuals are closely related to survival, and survival on our own terms.
- A basic aim is to improve our capacity for independent action, and the degree to which we cooperate, or compete, with others is driven by the need to satisfy this basic goal.
- In a real world of limited resources and skills, individuals and groups form, dissolve and reform their cooperative or competitive postures in a continuous struggle to remove or overcome obstacles to reach their goals.
- This ‘cooperation’ represents an improved capacity for independent action for all concerned but requires the making of decisions and the taking of actions, over and over again, in many different ways.
It moves to mental concepts:
- To make these timely decisions implies that you are able to form mental concepts of observed reality – as you perceive it – and are able to change these concepts as reality itself appears to change.
- To develop and manipulate these mental concepts you can either go from general to specific or specific to general, that is:
- Deduction: start from a comprehensive whole and break it into its parts in a process of analysis and differentiation, or
- Induction: start from the parts and builds towards a comprehensive whole in a process of synthesis and integration.
There is destructive deduction:
- Consider a comprehensive whole, a domain, for example, a customer group and their needs, the products/services you supply, who you compete with, the basis of competition and everything else in that marketplace.
- In your business, there are probably many domains, all of which you have developed concepts of meaning for representing your observed reality.
- You can also create domains in your imagination, as we do when we think of new products, customer groups and markets.
- If you were to break all these actual and imagined domains down into their individual parts you would probably end up with something like anarchy.
- But what you have done is commenced a process of ‘unstructuring’ through deduction, analysis and differentiation.
And there is constructive/creative induction:
- Faced with such disorder and chaos, you need to reconstruct order and meaning, which you can do through induction, synthesis and integration to create a new domain.
- A new concept, a mental model, can be formed by threading common qualities, attributes and operations together to create a new meaning.
What John Boyd outlined in his thesis is the process of creativity. Essentially:
‘… creativity is related to induction, synthesis, and integration since we proceeded from unstructured bits and pieces to a new general pattern or concept. […] It is important to note that the crucial or key step to permit this creative induction is the separation of the particulars from their previous domains by destructive deduction. Without this ‘unstructuring’, the creation of a new structure cannot proceed – since the bits and pieces are still tied to meaning within unchallenged domains or concepts.’
This process of ‘unstructuring’ and restructuring represents a way of changing your perception of reality or, to put it into business terms, break down the paradigms that may exist.
But it also requires a unifying thread that may be used to link or discard the individual parts before you to create the new meaning. This unifying thread is the cord of creativity that you weave in creating the new meaning and it is anchored in competitiveness and developing a competitive posture. That is, delivering a new value offering to existing or new customers in a completely new structure. You have created a new domain and, in doing so, have probably created a ‘blue ocean’ and left your competitors wondering what to do next.
Creativity As A Culture
Most businesses think of creativity in a corporate and/or team context. Rob Shelton in his article in strategy+business titled, ‘These Five Behaviours Can Create An Innovation Culture’, notes that most businesses want to establish a culture of innovation that will encourage employees to take risks to create breakthrough products. However, they do not know how to build this culture.
Shelton puts forward five behaviours that will assist in developing the right culture:
- Innovation is a team sport and requires excellent collaboration across various silos in your business. Therefore, focus on building collaboration across your ecosystem.
- There will be intrapreneurs in your business, people who have that entrepreneurial mindset. You must enable them to succeed by creating metrics that measure and recognise their efforts.
- Innovation happens best when people move quickly. Therefore agility must be a trait that you seek to build.
- Focus on big ideas that make the risks worth taking.
- Balance operational excellence with the need to ensure innovation occurs. Do not allow the argument of maintaining operational excellence to stifle innovation.
In considering how to stimulate innovation in your business and craft a supporting culture, I would also recommend that you consider the key points that John Boyd made above.
You not only want to create a culture of innovation but you also want to establish a process by which it occurs – destructive deduction and creative induction.
The Importance Of One
In my piece ‘Collaborate or Create – It’s Your Choice’, I highlight the importance of the individuals who are ‘generalists’ in allowing businesses to be creative.
A generalist is someone who is not a specialist in just one thing. Rather they have invested themselves in exploring a range of related fields and have become what may be described as a ‘comprehensivist’ having mastered multiple crafts.
They are also someone who can hold multiple conflicting ideas in their mind at once. They are comfortable with the tensions that arise so they can explore and build various models.
Consider the process of destructive deduction and creative induction and you will quickly realise that the skills of individuals who are comprehensivists are essential to being able to deconstruct and comfortably ‘play’ with alternate combinations in discerning and developing a new integrated model.
They may well lead a collaborative effort but it is unlikely that a team without such a person at its helm will be able to resolve the inherent weaknesses in the collaborative model.
From Personas Through Creativity To Growth
A creative process of destructive deduction and creative induction, when applied through the lens of your core customer persona, can provide a rich field of opportunities for growth.
But opportunity lies in tomorrow and not yesterday so that persona must be deconstructed in the domains of key influencers on their persona.
What is changing and influencing the world of your customer? And what opportunities can you create by weaving together a new set of individual elements to create an amazing new offering for those customers and likely many others? These are the questions you can answer if you allow your imagination to explore opportunity in a structured way.
Active Knowledge Questions:
How do you search for new opportunities in your business?
Do you have a process that allows your most imaginative people to explore free of boundaries?
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All the best in the success of your business,