Tag Archives: troubleshooting

Bureau of Idea Approval

Seth Godin describes our culture’s attitude towards implementing ideas:

    I’ve encountered thousands (it might be tens of thousands) of people walking around with great ideas. Some of the ideas really are great; some are merely pretty good. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of ideas. Ordinary folks can dream up remarkable stuff fairly easily.
    What’s missing is the will to make it happen.

    A lot of us would like to believe that there’s a Bureau of Idea Approval, or the BIA if you like acronyms. The BIA sits in judgement of ideas and blesses the best ones. Go ahead and hone your remarkable concept, submit it to the BIA, and let them do the rest.
    Alas, it’s not going to happen like that any time soon.

Naomi of Itty Biz puts it like this:

    “Do you really think this is a good idea? I told my husband and he seemed really lukewarm.”

    I hate to get all cliché on your ass but if I had a dollar for every time I heard something like this I sure as shit wouldn’t be living in Canada’s Snow Belt when there are perfectly good beaches in Bali I could inhabit.

    In the time I’ve been hanging out in the aforementioned Snow Belt doing home business marketing consulting, I have heard one bad idea. (If you’re reading this, it wasn’t yours. I’ll tell you right now that the creator of the idea in question does not read this blog.) Sure, there are lots of bad ideas in the world, but intelligent people reject them before they hit the discuss-it-with-your-loved-ones phase and the lame idea never sees the light of day.

    Why Your Loved Ones Want You To Fail

And yet, the idea persists. We feel like there’s some process we have to go through, some certificate we have to get, before we start work on our ideas.

By the power vested in me by me…

It’s really OK to try. I mean, you should engage in some serious thought before you, ya know, quit your job and move across the country to open a store selling organic notepaper. But there are lots of options that are less drastic… that are, in fact, very low-risk. Join some online forums about your topic, and figure out what hashtags are used on twitter to identify those discussions. Start a blog and talk about your ideas. Start a meetup where people can get together and talk about your ideas. Write a manifesto. Make an online store. Start a 30-day Trial.

I hereby give you permission. Thanks to David Seah, visual designer of inspirational awesomeness, you can even have a certificate.

I also hereby deputize you into the Bureau of Idea Approval. Whenever you hear an idea that’s worth spreading, present its creator with a certificate. Whenever someone approaches you to ask your opinion of an idea, give them a certificate when you tell them to give it a shot. Whenever a loved one is ready to surrender to the threat of an invisible mallet, give them a certificate saying that their idea is a good one.

Let’s make this world a more idea-friendly place.


Download: Bureau of Idea Approval Certificate

Note 1: I have typed out Bureau of Idea Approval each time, because the US already has a BIA, which stands for Bureau of Indian Affairs, and I don’t want anyone to get the two mixed up.

Note 2: The above product links are affiliate links. If you enjoyed and appreciated this information, you can give me monetary reward by buying products through those links. Learn More.

Shipping Hurts

Seth Godin talks a lot about how the prehistoric-don’t-get-eaten-by-a-lion part of you (which he calls The Lizard Brain or The Resistance), really, really hates it when you try to do something remarkable. It hates for you to make products, because there’s a chance they might fail (and it associates failure with getting eaten by lions). It hates for you to start a new business, because there’s a chance you might fail (and get eaten by lions). It hates for you to try freelancing, or start a blog. In fact, it hates everything that might help you get ahead in life. It wants you to be average and boring.

If you manage to circumvent The Resistance long enough to actually get a project started, The Resistance turns to subterfuge and sabotage. It tells you that your novel needs another edit before you send it to the publisher, that your business will really go a lot better if you wait until you’ve taken accounting, that you shouldn’t try freelancing until you have some more money (wait.. aren’t I freelancing to get more money? Shh! The Resistance hates logic). The Lizard tries to keep all projects in “pending” mode, tries to keep you from ever shipping.

Godin has talked a lot about how the lizard will try to keep you from shipping your projects, by making you scared or uncertain or angry. What he hasn’t mentioned is that if you get around all that and manage to ship anyway, the lizard will switch to negative reinforcement: it will punish you for shipping, by making you terrified that you left a typo on page 5, or that your customer will hate the color scheme, or that you set the price too high. The goal is to associate pushing the Send button with excruciating pain, so that you won’t ever do it again.

Even though it’s happening after the shipment, it’s still The Resistance, and it doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Ignore it.

Resources For Further Reading
10 Weaknesses of Human Intelligence
Avoiding Momentum

Dangerous or Gutsy?

You and some friends are on a tour in the African savanna, enjoying the scenery and the wildlife, when an angry rhinoceros charges the vehicle. There’s a rifle on the seat next to you with enough power to stop the rhino. Do you

    a) Scream and cower in terror?
    b) Grab the rifle, take aim, and shoot?

Please note that this is a scary situation. Sitting up straight, taking careful aim, and shooting steadily will require a lot of courage. It’s a gutsy thing to do.

But it’s also the safest thing to do. If you miss, you’re no worse off than if you hadn’t tried, so there’s no downside risk. If you hit, you’re a lot better off than if you hadn’t tried, so there’s a lot of potential upside. You’re clearly better off doing the gutsy thing.

And… how does this relate to business?

We tend to associate “gutsy” stuff with “dangerous” stuff. And sometimes that’s true: going over Niagara Falls in a barrel requires guts and is dangerous. But sometimes, as in the rhinoceros example above, the “gutsy” decision is also the least dangerous decision.

And that happens in business sometimes, too. Buying enough factory capacity that you can actually meet demand, shipping a product you know isn’t quite as good as you’d like, or starting a blog in your free time… all of these take courage, but are, objectively, the best, smartest, safest decision.

Recognizing which ideas are dangerous, and which are gutsy-but-good, is one of the most important skills you can develop.

Resources for Further Reading
Intelligent Risk Taking
Risk Analysis

Play it Safe — and Experiment

In Learning From Your Competition, I discussed what things you can learn from your competitors, including what price, which promotions, and which combinations of products are most likely to be effective for your business. But if your business just copies what other businesses do, why should any customer go to you? This is especially true on the internet, where “Just like Facebook, only different” has repeatedly proven a recipe for failure.

What your competition does is safe

Nonetheless, copying the competition is a good place to start your entrepreneurial ventures, because you know there’s a market for what they’re selling. If you offer a product that’s basically the same as your competitors’ most popular product, at a price that’s the average of all their prices, using the same promotional methods as they do, you’re pretty much guaranteed to sell some of it.

It’s a low-risk choice, but it’s also a low-reward choice: since your offering is essentially identical to everyone else’s, you’re relying on the vagaries of fate to randomly steer some of the customers in your direction.

Once you’re safe, then experiment

With your solid base of safe, low-risk products, you have a relatively stable platform from which to explore. Now start experimenting.

Experiment with new products, or product combinations. Would your customers like these new items? Would they like the deluxe edition? Instead of buying products individually, would they like a subscription?

Experiment with prices (the people who select the MSRP are just guessing, too). If you put this on sale for 10%, does it increase the number of sales by more than 10%? If you increase prices on this one by 5%, how many people still buy it? What does it go for on eBay? Does it make sense to have different prices at different times of the day? Different times of the year? In different locations?

Experiment with delivery. Does it make sense to open another location? To offer home delivery? To create e-products that can be sold everywhere? Will customers pay extra for quicker delivery or more efficient locations?

Experiment with promotions. Is advertising the best method? What about networking meetings, or a booth at local events, or seminars at your local library? Are your customers on Facebook? Would they like to receive information via text message or email?

Keep what works, get rid of the rest

Eventually you’ll have a fantastic marketing mix — product, price, distribution, and promotion — that is great for your customers, and gives them a reason to bring their money to you.

Resources for Further Reading
Seth Godin on Competition
Risk Analysis

Learning From Your Competitors

In my last article, I talked about why judging your success by what your competitors have done is stupid. But does that mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to what your competitors are doing?

Not at all — that’s a good way to go out of business. It only means that you shouldn’t decide how well you did based on what your competitors did — your measurements of success should be internal, based on things you care about achieving. Competitor analysis is a terrible way to judge success… but a great way to help you decide what to do.

What you can learn from studying your competition

  • What your customers like
  • What your customers don’t like
  • How much (approximately) your customers are willing to pay
  • New products/services you can offer to your customers
  • What combination of products/services your customers are most likely interested in
  • What promotional methods are most likely to be effective
  • Industry trends
  • Industry standards

Look at what your competitors are doing, so that you can decide what you need to do in response– whether that’s copy it, offer an opposing product, or ignore it — just don’t use them as a standard of success.

Resources for Further Reading
The Problem With Competitive Metrics