I recently read an advance copy of Mark Herdering’s Hanging Out For a Living. This business fable has quite a few lessons worth sharing. This is one of the first.
Imagine you are the leading candlemaker in New England before the 1879 invention of the light bulb. You’re on top of the world. You have economies of scale your competitors can’t match. Demand for your product has no where to go but up. Revenues and profits follow suit: up. Within a matter of years, you’re out of business.
What’s the problem and how could it be prevented? The problem is you see yourselves as a candlemaker. How else could you think about your business that would allow you to stay on top as the world around you changes? What do candles do? They light dark places. So instead of being in the candlemaking business, you could think of yourself as being in the “Bringing light to dark places” business. While accurate, it’s a bit unwieldy. Instead, how about the simplification: “I cure darkness”? Cure is an evocative word, positioning darkness not just as a particular state, but as something off, or wrong, something needing fixing.
Now, when the light bulb comes along, you can embrace it as an extension of what you’re currently doing. You can drive adoption of this new technology with your large customer base that already knows, likes and trusts you. Rather than try to convince your customers to stick with candles and hold on to that business for a few more years, you can move faster than anyone else into the lightbulb market and drive your business to new heights.
That said, what business are you in?