Friday, May 15, 2009

“Thinking Outside the Box” ... Small Business Strategies

Business Owner Questionnaire:
1. Name two problems, in your business, that you are currently wanting to solve:

2. List 2 existing products or services that works well for your company:

3. List an end result you would like to see happen, but hasn’t happened yet:

4. Metaphor Samples:
A heart of stone He has the heart of a lionYou are the sun in my skyYou are the light in my lifeShe is my East and my West, my compass.

List 3-5 metaphors you know:

Now take one of the existing products/services that works well for your company and create 5 metaphors:

What is a modifying word list?

For more creative solutions to problems we need to get our minds looking in new directions. A systematic way to do this is to use a list of idea-generating words - primarily adjectives - to create "what if?" scenarios. Begin with the question, "What if it was..." and insert a word from the list. "It" can be the problem you're trying to solve, or the situation or solution that exists at the moment.

For an example of the technique in action, we'll pretend you want a better job, and that you are a clerk at a bookstore. You aren't satisfied with the work, and it also doesn't pay well. You pull out the word list and ask "What if it was..."

Larger. That makes you think of a better position perhaps. It also makes you think of a larger store, where you might be paid more, or have more opportunity for advancement.

Smaller. The problem could be smaller if you got a raise, and found a few ways to make the work more interesting. Maybe a smaller store would pay even less per hour, but be open to your ideas for increasing sales, and pay you a percentage of profits.

Farther away. This make you realize that you have been too narrow in your search. It could be worth driving a little to get a better higher-paying job. Maybe it's even time to move to another town.

Closer. Could you get a job nearby and sell your car? The money saved would be like a large raise.

More difficult. Selling magazines by phone like your friend does would be more difficult, but he makes $5 an hour more than you. If you hate the job anyway, why not make more money?

Take notes as you do this exercise, and develop the ideas. Most words won't give you useful ideas, but don't dismiss them without a few seconds of thought. Creative solutions can begin with unrelated thoughts. "What if it was hopeless?" may seem useless, but it could also bring you to the useful realization that you need a business instead of a job.

The Modifying Word List
The list here is a basic one. Use it as is, but remember that there are hundreds of idea-generating words you could add to it. Any adjectives, descriptive phrases, or words that can change your perspective can be potentially useful.

What if it was...
farther away
more difficult
more exciting
more casual
more serious

Why not make your own modifying word list now (or print out this one), and keep it handy?

Add - Subtract – Change
The add-subtract-change technique is easy to use. It is particularly good for use in redesigning things, but can be used for any type of problem. You just start with the existing "solution" and ask what you can add, subtract or change. I'm going to use a bicycle for an example.
Using the “add-subtract-change” technique to come up with our new product, we would look at an existing bicycle and ask:

1. What could we add?
Maybe a radio could be built into the handle bars? Perhaps a map holder that attaches to the handle bars? A pet-carrier up front, so you can bring your cat along for the ride? (Okay, I'll stop looking at the handle bars as I write this.) A built-in retractable lock?

2. What could we subtract?
Take away some of the gears? I've always thought that for casual users, six speeds is enough. Subtract some of the weight? Lighter is better. Lower the price?

3. What could we change?
We could make the tires reflective for safety. We could put a hole in the seat for men's comfort, or find a new type of padding. Could we make the gears shift automatically?

Add : As you can see, looking for things to add can require a bit of imagination.

Subtract : On the other hand, looking for things to subtract can be very systematic. Just look at everything, item by item, and ask what would happen if it was removed or lessened.

Change : The last question - What could we change? - is where you get to be very systematic and imaginative. Item by item you look at every aspect of the existing solution to imagine ways in which you could alter it, replace it, or redesign it.
To quickly generate new ideas, why not try the problem solving technique; add-subtract-change.

Note: This was an excerpt from Problem Solving Power, an e-book containing more than two dozen effective and fun techniques for solving problems and generating ideas. 32 information-packed chapters that will change your thinking.

Metaphors as a Problem Solving Technique
Metaphors are powerful tools for understanding things. "Tools," of course, is a metaphor. I could have said "way of understanding things," or "method." Each word or expression conveys a slightly different meaning, and gets you thinking in different ways. Use this power of metaphors to solve problems more creatively.

If you're an "employee," you'll think about your job in a certain way. An "associate," might feel more important and think differently about his duties. If you're a "business," selling your labor, then your "boss" becomes just a "customer." You can raise your prices, change your service, or look for other customers to contract with.

Metaphorical Analysis
Use a metaphor to solve a problem, and you'll get some ideas. Use another, and you'll get different ideas. Why not use as many as you can think of, to get the widest, most creative selection of ideas? That is the key to this problem solving technique.

An example. Mike wants to design, build and sell a new type of swimming pool. He starts with his pen and paper, and writes down as many metaphors as he can.

"A swimming pool is a toy. A pool is a status symbol. A pool is a playground. It is a park. It's a job. It's entertainment. It's an aquatic gym. It's a decoration. It's a deathtrap. It's a personal lake. It's an oasis.”Then he lists some metaphors for the activity of swimming. Swimming is exercising. It's vacationing. It's playing. It's therapy.

Then he lists some metaphors for selling. Selling is a business. It is teaching. It's showing. It's a contest. It's talking. It's advertising. It's sharing."

Finally, Mike works with each metaphor, to see what ideas they produce:
As a "toy," pools for kids come to mind. As a "status symbol," Mike considers brass railings, liquor bars and other ways to make a pool seem "rich."

"Deathtrap" reminds him to make it safe, and he imagines an alarm system triggered if a child enters the pool without supervision. "Oasis" gives him ideas for creating a tropical environment as part of the pool.

Swimming as "exercising" has him thinking of pools with a current.
"Vacationing" Makes him wonder if more visual separation from the house would make the swimming "vacation" more relaxing.

"Therapy" gives him some marketing ideas for older customers.
Selling the pools is a business, of course, but "teaching" has Mike thinking of ways to educate customers about the benefits of swimming.

"Talking" makes him ask "Who will do the talking?" and leads to the idea of distributing videos to sell his pools. "Showing" generates several ideas for ways to display his pools, like free "pool parties" during summer.

As you can see, the application of new metaphors isn't limited to the original concept. It can be used on any part of the problem as well. Break a problem into a few components (the pool, swimming and selling, in the above example), find as many metaphors as you can for each, and note the ideas you get when using each. Metaphorical analysis can be a powerful problem solving technique.

Note: This was an excerpt from Problem Solving Power, an e-book containing more than two dozen effective and fun techniques for solving problems and generating ideas. 32 information-packed chapters that will change your thinking. Use the link below for more information:
999 Ideas Metaphorical Analysis Problem Solving Technique

Search Engines
Search engine play is a quick way to gather information, but it has become so useful that it deserves consideration as it's own technique. To "Google it," means to look for information on something using the Google search engine.
For an example of how to play with Google to find new solutions, we'll start with the problem of expensive medical care. How do we spend less? I just typed "cheap medical care" into Google.

First Browse For Ideas
The first result was an article, "Westerners Seek Cheap Medical Care in Asia." It reminds me that dental care is 70% cheaper in Mexico, less than two hours from where we live. In a larger context, it makes me want to see why it is so cheap. Maybe there is something to be learned there.

Another result is for a medical supply company. I recall selling some crutches at a rummage sale once, and wonder where things like wheelchairs can be bought used. That could be a real money saver. An ad for low cost insurance plans makes me wonder how many ways there are to save on medical insurance.

Then Dig Deeper
After you get a few ideas, dig deeper. When I actually click through to the article on medical care in Asia, I find that it's about a retired Oregon apple farmer who doesn't have insurance. He was told it would be $35,000 and a six- month wait for surgery on his torn knee ligaments. Instead, he had it done in India for a third of that, including airfare to Bombay.
Now that's a solution! Save over $20,000 and have it done sooner. Right away, I start to think of a business based on charter flights to the best surgical centers of India. Would you like a seat on the heart surgery express? Half price for heart surgery!

Use the search engines for information on how others have solved your problem, and for new ideas.After the initial search, I clicked through to the article, but I also could have explored "insurance." The ad for prescriptions and supplements had me thinking about how much I could save if I ate well and never needed medical care.

Use search engines as personal brainstorming tools. Get new ideas with search engine play.

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