Make a choice

You and your company can’t be all things to all people. You need to choose.

That’s always the first thought that strikes, when I hear of someone looking to build a multi-purpose product for a potentially big market;

Jack of all trades, master of none.

My rationale is that when you’re going for several and quite different use cases all at once, it becomes increasingly hard to communicate to your customers, why you’re exceptionally good at serving exactly their needs and get them to spend the cash on your product or service.

Chances are there will always by a small number of focused pure players who do a better job at solving the customers problem than you do with your ’80 % fixed’ approach (which is in essence what you communicate when you say “We can do all of this” instead of “We just do this”).

The argument can be a bit counter intuitive, I know. Because many will think that with more use cases come more opportunity to make an impact and be successful – not less. Alas, the devil is in the detail as hinted at above.

The contrast to the ‘one size fits all’ approach is to look at where the biggest addressable, focused market is – and then go after that big time. Yes, you will be doing one thing (you get my point, I am sure), but you will be focused, and the opportunity will be there to serve customers who are not seeing “A bit of this, a bit of that” as the solution to their specific problem(s).

Agree?

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Taking stock

Quite often I find that what I set out to do is not the same as what I end up doing.

And I believe I see that happen a lot at startups too.

The explanation is pretty straight forward: There is NEVER a straight line between the original idea and what you end up bringing to market. Something ALWAYS happens that sends you on a small detour. Maybe not a big one, but it’s there.

The problem then arises if you still think you’re doing what you originally set out to do, but in reality, you aren’t. Then its time to take stock and update your view on the world.

Look yourself in the mirror and be frank and honest about what you see. Don’t tell yourself any lies – big or small, black or white – but stay true and real to what is actually there.

That will give you the best vantage point for plotting the continued journey.

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Be problem-driven

There are quite a few really good arguments for why you should focus on the problem rather than the solution, when you’re trying to build a successful company. But there is one that I think takes the prize as the most powerful one:

By focusing on the problem, you broaden the opportunity for yourself, your company and your future success.

Why?

Because you start being less solution-focused. Not agnostic as such because there will always be something that you do that you need to put into the product to give it the real edge it needs. But less solution-focused.

You may start out developing and shipping one product, get a good reception and perhaps even some decent traction. And once you can see that the core fundamentalt of what you’re doing seems to resonate in the market, you can lift your gaze and start thinking about what’s next.

And this is where focusing on the problem rather than the solution enters the picture:

By focusing on the problem, you will see more opportunities just by looking. And others may present themselves that you would otherwise not have noticed. And this gives you opportunity.

Instead of being strong in a niche, you can become stronger in a space – and maybe even grow to become dominant of an entire industry.

Because you chose a laser like focus on the problem.

Looking in retrospect, most companies don’t become wildly successful by just doing one thing or having one product. They become wildly successful, because they understand the market they are in, the jobs, pains and gains of their customers and constituents – and the problem space they’re working on.

You should apply that approach to yourself and your company too.

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The rocket fuel of purpose

Recently I wrote about the 3 problems of purpose. It is thus only fair that I also offer a few words on how a deep-felt purpose can serve as rocket fuel for your business.

Lets start by taking a step back:

More often than not you know what and your company does and how to do it will. You might experts, market leaders within your field even. And by focusing on what you do – your core – you’re able to make it incrementally better, more powerful and/or valuable on a consistent basis.

But what happens when you have done everything you can, and your product is perfect (if such a state ever exists, but I am sure you get my point)? What then? What’s next?

This is where a deep felt purpose can come in handy for your business:

If you look at what you’re trying to achieve, the change you’re trying to foster rather than the products and services you deliver per se, then you can define a purpose that could effectively serve as a kickstarter for your ‘next big thing’.

Everybody who has ever had to come up with something new knows that the worst thing is the blank sheet of paper – it can be so daunting to start working and actually get something down, you can start working on.

With a solid deep-felt purpose you don’t have a blank sheet of paper anymore. You have a context; something to set your creative juices flowing. Something to get your ideas started and start thinking in new and/or complimentary products and services.

Because you have a deep-felt sense of what it is you’re trying to affect and the impact you could potentially have, if you succeed. And that is potentially rocket fuel for any venture.

But of course you need to have a legitimate deep-felt purpose. A fake or forlorn one won’t work.

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The 3 problems with ‘purpose’

There are three problems with purpose.

The first problem is that a lot of companies really don’t have a big interesting purpose aside from making a profit no matter how hard they might go looking for it (which is absolutely fine in itself).

You can put a lot of standard webshops into this bucket. None mentioned, none forgotten.

If you own or are employed at a standard run-of-the-mill company, by all means don’t spend a lot of time and energy on finding a purpose that is going to be and feel forlorn anyway.

Focus on your core; profit and growth. And be totally fine with that.

If you are in a company which actually do have a purpose, do spend the time getting it right and use it to build your company culture, attract the right talent, delight customers etc.

You and your company will be all the better for it, I’m sure.

If it works.

And this brings me to the second problem with purpose; when things go south.

As big an enabler a clear and strong purpose can be, as big a bummer it can be, if you’re not aligned about it, and if people start breaking ranks focusing instead on other things.

Because just as a great purpose can unite, a forlorn purpose that is not truly shared can drive apart. And ultimate failure can follow.

That basically leaves you with the last reason why purpose can be a problem:

The excuse.

When things go south you can try to seek cloud cover behind your purpose; that at least you tried to make a dent in the universe or whatever lofty purpose you have formulated for yourself.

You use the purpose to convince yourself that everything has not been in vain. That there was a reason for everything, where in reality it is most likely BS.

So all in all: Think about whether purpose is something you should be spending time on. If you decide it is, make sure it’s for all the right reasons, and that you can justify doing so any day of the week to people who are sceptic about it.

That’s usually a pretty good test of the strength of your purpose anyway.

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Passion versus perspective

When you’re passionate about something, it is very easy to let passion get the better of you and lose the grander perspective on things.

That’s the trouble with passion; it has a capacity to leave you blind-sighted during the very times when you need perspective the most. You focus too much on the here and now rather on what could come next.

But on the other hand passion is also a huge source of energy.

Not only when things go well, and you feel like you can just keep on going because you’re on a quest.

But also when things are falling off the rails, because that’s when you use the energy of your passion to grind your teeth, keep on going and figure out what to do next.

But it still takes an ability to keep your eyes and – most especially – your mind open to the perspective.

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What chess taught me

When I was a kid, I enjoyed playing chess. I was part of my school chess club, part of the first team and at one time actually won the local county (amt) championship in my age group.

Chess was fun and interesting. And taught me a couple of important lessons about life;

Looking and planning ahead a few moves is cool. But if it comes at the expense of taking your eye of the ball of what’s happening right here and right now, you’re still going to loose.

So. Keep. Your. Eyes. On. The. Ball.

On the other hand; if you’re acting too quickly in the spur of the moment and not showing enough patience to completely your next move so it ends being a wise one, you’re also going to loose.

As in all other aspects a life, it is a question about balance.

Don’t overthink, don’t stress.

Be smart.

Contemplate the situation – state of play.

Think in options and alternatives.

Make the move that seems to bring you closer towards your objective while at the same time preserving your interests.

Repeat. And repeat. Etc.

More people should really take up chess.

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The Catch 22 of strategy

2021 is upon us. And for many that signals the roll-out of a new strategy or annual plan.

While those often seem intuitive – sometimes even banal – getting them right is super hard.

It is vital to be able to focus on executing on the plan. Yet, it is also vital to be open to the element of surprise.

The balance between the two is super hard.

If you only focus, you will get narrow-sighted and probably not succeed.

If you’re always open for the element of surprise, you’re unlikely to be able to focus and probably not succeed.

And if you mix the two, some will focus too narrow on the former and some will be distracted by the latter.

It is just super hard to get right.

But there is no way around trying.

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