Recently I was reminded of how difficult it can be to get the value proposition right, especially for a new disruptive business or a new division of a base business. I think of it like one of those old master combination locks that has three different number code with numbers from 1- 40 and how you must get all three numbers in sequence turning clockwise and counter-clockwise to unlock it. Even if I know the right combination it can take me multiple tries, which I find a humbling experience. But in most cases when you contemplate a new disruptive business model, you don’t know the code. In fact, you don’t even know the first number. All you have to go on is an insight into a problem inherent in a particular industry that your instincts tell you can be solved in a unique and novel way.
So begins the challenge.
(Just a note: if you look up how to decode a master lock when you don’t know the code, it makes it a bit more complex. WikiHow says to listen to the click and count five numbers ahead, starting clockwise and then going counterclockwise, then clockwise again. I tried to crack the code on a vintage master lock in the house for which I didn’t know the combo. I tried the WikiHow formula and it didn’t work for me, even after making several attempts, because just like starting a new business proposition or trying to solve a major problem, it is by no means an easy thing to do. But that brings me to the purpose of this blog — which is to emphasize that you have it in yourself to produce that extraordinary creativity necessary to figure out how to get around the various obstacles involved and crack that lock when it comes to innovating disruptive new business models.
You are destined to do so no matter how difficult. Creativity is the precursor to innovation.
OK, but how do you break through to a level of clarity – that eureka moment – that not only enables you to open that master lock, but most importantly to generate a consistent enough profit to sustain the business while you’re in the process of revolutionizing it? In other words, while you might think you’ve succeeded in getting the value proposition absolutely right, as my business partner Paul says, if people aren’t climbing over each other for the product or service involved, either you don’t have it right, or no one cares about the value proposition. Well, here are some of the techniques that have consistently worked for me (keeping in mind these are some of the tools that I use but might not be suitable for everyone or apply in every situation).
1) Make room for your CREATIVE MUSE
Creativity is the precursor to innovation. But creativity does not come with a hectic crazy schedule, with you going in multiple directions at breakneck speed with emails, texting, deadlines, LinkedIn and of course all the meetings and conference calls that have become a routine part of today’s business world. To welcome your creative muse, you need to unplug from all of these daily distractions. I try (try is the operative word – it’s not easy) to take at least an hour break every day to do nothing work related. A hike, or perhaps a television show (my favorites are on the Cooking Channel). In fact, a few years ago I painted a couple of hundred paintings practicing this. Movies are very dear to my heart and are a very effective way to get you out of the stress of the day-to-day issues you have to deal with. A friend of mine who was CEO of a major restaurant chain was a movie buff, and would head out to a matinee multiple times during the week.
So, what are you going to do to break away from the daily work routine long enough to allow the creative muse into your life?
You can start by making sure you have a pen and paper handy while hiking, watching a movie or just having a quiet lunch unplugged in your local bistro, to write down any crazy thoughts that might hit you while you’re not focusing on work-related matters. Such thoughts may well turn out to be important, no matter how random they may at first appear.
The next step will help you drill down to find out if others can help you solve the problem or enhance your value proposition.
2) Assemble a CREATIVE TEAM
You not only have to be Bold and Courageous with whatever creative thoughts come to you while you are taking a break from the hectic, crazy world, but to apply them to solving some problem – because if you don’t, they‘ll be nothing more than paper tigers. That’s why, if at all possible, you should make it your business to confer with others who have a handle on the various problems in your organization that are most in need of resolution. Ideally, this should be a team of people from different disciplines — a mix of trusted colleagues and new associates, both male and female with a wide range of ages.
This team should be assembled by phone or Zoom at least once per week, and you, the team leader, should make sure that everyone understands the problem and instill in them the common goal of coming up with ideas that will disrupt the business-as-usual cycle and introduce more novel, efficient, uninhibited thought processes. To do that, you have to let them know that this is a “safe zone” where anything goes, and no ideas is too off-limits or too crazy to introduce into the mix. Since you will not be in front of a white board, but on a conference call, it’s your responsibility to encourage everyone to contribute and perhaps even leave their creative comfort zone. You have to continually regroup and serve up different thoughts, including the ones you’ve formed during those moments of “unplugging,” which may in turn cause others to do likewise and perhaps come up with variations on them or ways they could be applied that hadn’t occurred to you. Such meetings of the mind have to occur regularly in order to have the disrupting influence you’re aiming for.
(Now, if you find yourself saying that this isn’t you, that you are not a leader or an agent of change, my recommendation is that you get back to the hike, Netflix binge or whatever you do to get your creative juices flowing. Sooner or later, I predict that you’ll find the right level of motivation to start sharing the ideas that have occurred to you during these moments of creative loafing.)
3. TEST, TEST, TEST, FAIL FAST and PERSIST
Once you have the creativity turned on and have assembled a team to debate it, turn it over, change the code and the direction multiple times. At the point that the team agrees that something looks promising and all the high fives come out, that’s the time to start testing your value proposition on real consumers, friends, family, associates, and keep testing it.
I am almost assured at this stage that you only have (at best) two of the numbers on the master lock but not yet the third, and without it you won’t unlock the formula. But with enough consumer and business feedback, I can assure you that this testing process (even if it takes years) will ultimately reveal that all-important third number and unlock the value proposition.
Now during this phase the new business thought process outlined in the book Lean Start Up by Eric Ries says to “fail fast” — something I both agree and disagree with it at the same time. I agree that there will come times when you realize the “juice just isn’t worth the squeeze” or the value proposition will never reap the rewards commensurate with the work required to accomplish it, and when you come to that conclusion you fail fast. But many times when you are in the process of working to solve some huge problem for humanity, there isn’t a quick unlock or any short cuts to realizing the value proposition. It rather requires an old-school virtue – persistence, which may mean that you throw out the value proposition and start the process above again and again and again.
I remind many of the young people that I mentor that there are countless “overnight successes” in which the “overnight” period actually was over 10 years. So let’s change this to “big changes takes courageous persistence” whereas small or incremental ones fail fast.
Remember — There is no perfect system, and you will create your own. I only share this three- step process with you because it has worked for me over the years.
Just to Review: you are creative. You can assemble a team to fine tune the value proposition. And you need to fail fast, except where you are working on a major, long-term change for the benefit of society. You and your team are disruptors, change agents and are performing a valuable, needed service that represents the only way real progress is made.
Here’s to your incredible and extraordinary self.
Onward and upward,