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Weekly 3: Planning Multiple Businesses, Customer Value & "Negative Capability"

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

October 22 · Issue #5 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

#1. Business plan(s): the approach of experimentation and variation used in product development can also be applied to developing a business model.
In her blog post 3 Smart Strategies to Build a Lean Business Model, IDEO Business Designer Rohini Vibha recommends three approaches to experimenting with different business models:
  • Instead of starting with a free product, put a (small) price on it.
  • For products that have already been released, create competition between different business models by offering several plans at varying levels of pricing. 
  • Use simple landing pages or crowdfunding platforms to test out demand for the offering before committing valuable resources. 
Entrepreneur and author Derek Sivers suggests in his book Anything You Want that coming up with multiple business models is a more realistic approach to the planning process: 
“You can’t pretend there’s only way to do it. Your first idea is just one of many options. No business goes as planned, so make ten radically different plans.”
#2. Asking "What business are we in?" can encourage innovative thinking, and help companies more effectively ride the waves of technological advancement.  
Creativity consultant Paul Sloane points out in his book The Innovative Leader that when companies are trying to develop innovative solutions, they should look beyond the features of their particular product or service, and instead focus on the ultimate benefits to their customers.
He cites the CEO of home improvement company Black & Decker as saying: “People don’t go into a DIY store because they need one of our drills. They go because they need a hole in the wall.”
For Sloane, this definition of innovation, as “extending customer value,” can also help shield companies from the more negative effects of technological disruption: those who thought they were in the CD business, but who were really in the music business were replaced by digital downloads. 
#3. Finding value in vagueness can lead to more creative solutions when making judgements and decisions. 
In his book The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Steven Sample, former president of the University of Southern California, introduces the concept of “thinking gray” and defines it as the following: 
“… don’t form an opinion about an important matter until you’ve heard all the relevant facts and arguments, or until circumstances force you to form an opinion without recourse to all the facts …”
Sample notes that thinking gray stands in contrast to conventional wisdom, which prizes quick and decisive judgements between opposing options. Such binary thinking may be useful for those dealing with “fight-or-flight situations,” but it comes with three risks: 
  • Forming an opinion too quickly can shut out additional information and arguments that may subsequently come up. 
  • Flip-flopping: committing to one perspective and then needing to change it later can lead to the impression that the leader is confused or opportunistic.
  • Because there is a natural tendency for people to “believe what they sense is strongly believed by others,” there is a risk of succumbing to a herd mentality.
According to Sample, a “truly effective leader, however, needs to be able to see the shades of gray inherent in a situation in order to make wise decisions as to how to proceed.”
In the world of literature, the value of suspending judgement was famously captured by nineteenth century poet John Keats, with his concept of “Negative Capability.” 
In an 1817 letter to his brothers George and Tom, Keats suggests that the peak of creative thinking involves embracing uncertainty, mystery and doubt. 
For Keats, Negative Capability represents the quality that forms “a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously.”
Quote of the Week: "Grace to be born and live as variously as possible."
- Frank O'Hara in his book The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara
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