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« Do entrepreneurs have psychological disorders? | Main | Investment and life »
Tuesday
Feb112014

Getting Lucky

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Sometimes, the flip side is the better track

In 1978 Gloria Gaynor was a moderately successful singer. That changed when she covered a Righteous Brothers number called “Substitute.” Few would remember the tune. That’s because it flopped. On the flip side was a new track no one had heard of. It was called “I Will Survive.” It went to the top of the charts and so did Gloria Gaynor.

Pop history is littered with so-called ‘B’ sides which outperformed their ‘A’ sides. They were often experimental, or thrown together to add some value to the ancient single. Instead, they broke new ground.

Successful ideas can be accidental. Keith Kellogg was working on a vegetarian diet when he left some boiled grain out overnight. It went stale but he processed it anyway because he was short of cash. Corn Flakes, the result of that lean startup, are now breakfast history.

Drilling down or drilling out?

Intense focus is a great skill but it can also blind you to adjacent opportunities. Sometimes they lurk in the ‘B’ side of your business.

In the 1980s, Pfizer experimented with a compound labeled UK92480, hoping it could alleviate angina. It didn’t. Trials were stopped in 1989. Years later the negative side effects reported by male participants caught their attention. The firm patented the drug in 1996 and today Viagra is one of Pfizer’s more profitable medications.

Whether you’re an established corporation or a startup, adjacent innovations can provide the real opportunity. Amazon started as a bookseller. Now it markets anything. It’s not about the things it sells, but how it sells them.

Can we spot the “other”?

Success often appears random. I’ve seen startups fail, only to watch the same idea get traction when launched at a different time in a different market. Randomness, or luck if you prefer, seems a reality.

Nonetheless, there are steps we can take to at least get exposure to it.

 

  • Get diverse input. No matter how clever you are, don’t manage in isolation. Research shows even so-called smart people, particularly those able to maintain strong focus, can find better solutions to problems when working with more distracted colleagues. While the former drills down, the latter often spot simpler, easier alternatives.
  • Look beyond your central thesis. It may not be your product that drives success. It could be the way you produce it, how you distribute it, or the skill sets of you and your colleagues. Think of other services you can offer customers using resources you’ve already created.
  • Try adding a ‘B’ side. We tend to focus on scaleable ideas. What about those that can be easily customized? Are there add-ons, lite versions or alternative uses that can flesh out tangential markets? iTunes was launched to support the iPod, but the support act became the main act. It revolutionized music marketing and within a few years iTunes revenues easily outweighed iPod sales.
  • Lastly, don’t ignore the negatives. You may know your great idea will work, but examine why it won’t. Once you’ve got a list of negatives, work out how to counter them, or use them. The result will certainly be an improved idea. There’s even a random chance you might discover a better one.

Reader Comments (1)

I plan to get lucky!

August 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter12/13/14

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