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Redefine for Success: 2 of 4    

Yaffi’s pivot is an excellent example of the advice offered by Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow

Yaffi Carmel of Jerusalem is a dynamo. You find yourself smiling when she tells you that her business, which is geared to facilitating connection in groups of all sizes, is called Gameboy.

She’ll run a team-building activity for a high-tech company one day and a series of relay races for a girls-night family getaway the next. Her activities are part challenge, part cooperative play, and entirely enjoyable.

Business was booming, her calendar full of events in the great outdoors — and then the war broke out. Suddenly, everyone was calculating how far they could run in 90 seconds — or 45 seconds, or a terrifying 15. Forest trails and wide-open spaces had become a menacing threat. The cancellations poured in.

Yaffi could have given up in defeat, shelving her activities until the war was over. Instead, she sat down and broke her business down into components. What does she offer? There are three elements: the activities, the setting, and her facilitation.

Outdoor settings wouldn’t work anymore. And she wasn’t able to travel around the country, so her active facilitation was no longer an option. But what if she took the games, added clear instructions, and created a kit of activities mothers could do with bored, emotionally overwhelmed kids?

In just a few weeks, Yaffi created activity kits geared to small groups. The kits, containing quality supplies and detailed instructions, were sold both online and by phone, and shipped out quickly to grateful families.

Instead of Yaffi’s business temporarily folding, it reached more people than ever before.

Component Power

Yaffi’s pivot is an excellent example of the advice offered by Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Kahneman points out that we all operate with some level of tunnel thinking, simply doing the same thing over and over again. In some situations, this is a blessing — imagine if you had to look at a shirt each morning and say, “What an interesting piece of fabric. I wonder what I can do with it?” But when it comes to your business, it can lead you into ruts, particularly when a crisis strikes.

He encourages people to isolate every component of their business and see if any element could be approached differently.

This is also the concept behind the Closed World solutions touted by the SIT (Systematic Inventive Thinking) company. Once you break down your current process or product, they explain, you start asking questions.

What would happen if you added an element? Cell phones were made with one SIM card. What would happen if you added another SIM? What if there were two dial pads?

You can subtract. Various types of kosher phones were created when smartphones were stripped of capabilities to eliminate features some customers didn’t want.

You may keep all the existing elements but shuffle them into a different arrangement. This type of thinking gave us refrigerators with the freezer section on bottom, and elevators with keypads outside the elevator rather than inside it.

Closer to home, imagine you’re a CBT therapist and realize you need additional income. Break down the elements — you have a service you offer, an office you work out of, and clients — and explore each. If you only work morning and evenings, perhaps you can rent out your clinic during the afternoon hours? Maybe you can offer group therapy several times a week, seeing eight clients at a time rather than one?

You’re using all the elements you already have in place, but restructuring them so they can be more lucrative.

Question Everything

We’ve been discussing this principle in the “Merchav Mugan — Protected Spaces” workshops Temech has been offering. A play on the words used for bomb shelters, we’ve created these workshops for women whose businesses have been shaken by the shockwaves of war.

The workshops are given in small, intimate groups, so each woman has a chance to share her unique challenges. They watch an educational film we’ve created and then reflect on how they can incorporate the ideas into their businesses.

In our third session, Yehoshua Hass, CEO of Jerusalem-based Tzofnat Business Consulting, encouraged the women to question all assumptions.

“Yes, there are a lot of challenges,” he acknowledged. “Workers may be displaced, suppliers may be serving in the army, potential customers may be too overwhelmed with day-to-day demands to be interested in your non-essential product.

“However, are your decisions based on fact or assumptions? Can you really not go back to work?

“Ask yourself: What element is preventing my business from flourishing? Has my customer’s pain point changed? Or is the pain the same, but it needs to be assuaged in a different way?”

He encouraged them to continue the line of thinking: Is this a war-related problem or a marketing problem? Is this a problem I’ve had for years, but it’s simply exacerbated now? And what can I do to change things?”

Even people who can’t actively work can use this time to plant seeds for the future. He shared the story of a woman who creates songs and soundtracks for school productions. Most schools aren’t creating productions right now, and her calendar was empty.

Mr. Hass urged her to reach out to all the extracurricular coordinators she’d worked with in the past — as well as a few she hadn’t yet done business with — and ask them if there was any assembly or activity coming up for which they needed background music, offering to send them a 30-minute soundtrack free of charge.

“True, she’s not earning anything right now,” he said, “but this is a fabulous marketing move that will keep her in the forefront of her customer’s minds. As soon as they do need a custom song created, she’ll be the first one they turn to.

“When your business is experiencing a lull, don’t let despair take over. Reach out to old customers, create a digital course, build a new business plan.”

Testing, Testing

Your evaluation may lead you to conclude that you need to create something new. If so, it’s important to find ways to test your new product as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Alberto Savoia, founder and innovation agitator at Pretotype Labs and a Stanford professor, speaks about this in his excellent book, The Right It.

His first start-up required $3 million of venture capital funding. He sold it for $100 million.

A few years later, he had another idea. He raised $25 million, and he and a highly qualified team spent five years developing the product. The final product did everything he hoped it would — but very few people purchased it, despite research showing there was a need and a desire for it.

This failure shaped Savoia’s thinking. He realized that you could do everything right and still fail if you’re working on the wrong “it.” The first and most crucial step is to ensure that you’re working on the right “it.” And in today’s fast-paced world, you want to do that as quickly as possible.

But how do you make that happen?

What you need, he posits, is a pretotype. Unlike a prototype, which is an early example of your product, the pretotype is a small piece of the future product, a way to test if there’s initial interest.

Savoia crafted a simple demonstration to show his Stanford students the concept at work. The students were wondering if they could create a business selling day-old sushi at significantly cheaper prices.

The normal method would involve creating a business plan, finding suppliers, possibly getting some investors. But Savoia reminded them that they needed to first test the plan — and test it quickly.

He had the students purchase a few containers of fresh sushi and put stickers on the packages stating, “Second-day sushi, 50% off.” They set up shop in a busy thoroughfare of the university and offered their wares to students passing by.

They were turned down again and again — the students wanted their sushi fresh. Within under two hours, having spent very little money, the students learned that they should probably abandon their plan. Real-life testing saved them a great deal of wasted time and energy.

When a product is more advanced, Savoia recommends creating a “Pinocchio prototype.” This is a basic, often nonfunctional version of the product that serves to test market reaction. It can be as simple as a physical mock-up, a digital rendering, or a basic model that conveys the product idea. The key is that it doesn’t have the full functionality of the intended final product, but can help you get feedback on physical aspects like design, size, or general appeal.

Yet another suggestion Savoia makes is creating a dummy product website. You create a basic website for a product still in the planning stages. The website might present information about the product and ask visitors to register their email for updates or preorders. This will allow you to get a sense of whether there’s a true demand for the product without investing significant resources in full-scale development.

When people tell me they’re creating a set of workshops or a retreat, I often recommend that they advertise before investing too much into the project.

I learned this lesson as a high schooler. When I was in tenth grade, my friend Rochel and I decided to make a summer camp. We planned something grand and were about to start signing contracts with bus drivers and other service providers, but my friend suggested we advertise first and see how many campers we get.

It was a good thing we did, because we didn’t get a single interested call. Had we advertised only after everything was set up, we would have lost money on the contracts we’d have had to cancel — not to mention all the wasted time and energy.

Brick by Brick

Another wise mindset to adopt when creating a new product is that of MVP — minimum viable product. It’s rarely wise to create the entire product before introducing it to the world.

First, the world is shifting so rapidly that if you spend a year doing market research and writing a spec and another two years developing it, your product may be outdated by the time you roll it out.

Second, the bitter reality is that what people say they want is often not what they’ll actually buy or use once it exists; research is tainted by people describing what they believe they should want rather than what they’ll actually use, and with others telling researchers what they think they want to hear.

To counteract this, it’s best to put the smallest possible piece of your project out into the world, sit back and watch how real customers actually use it, and get feedback regarding what they’d like to see next.

This is how we at Temech created our Windo site. We wanted a website that would serve religious businesswomen in Israel, and we had many dreams of what it might become, but we started three years ago with an MVP — in our case, a simple directory — then added features based upon user feedback.

We’d thought the next step would be to create an internal mail capability, but we quickly found that women didn’t want to reach out internally — they would just send private emails or call. However, we also found that many people were looking for specific experts and wanted a place where they could ask the group for recommendations. Our next upgrade was a virtual bulletin board.

Next, we noticed that there were certain topics people weren’t comfortable discussing in front of a large group, but they had no problem having those conversations in smaller groups. So we launched our Forty Days of Planting (featured in Issue 998) and divided the participants into small groups.

Now we’re waiting to see what people will want to use the site for next. Rather than throw a bunch of features at the users, we’re letting them show us what they want.

By building based on feedback, you can ensure that what you create is exactly, or at least in the vicinity of what’s needed.

Become Indispensable

I don’t own a business, you may be thinking, I don’t create anything. How is this relevant to me?

Until several decades ago, material about innovation wouldn’t have been applicable to the average worker. In the factory worker era, employers wanted employees who would just do as they were told without thinking or making suggestions.

Times have changed.

Automation has, for the most part, replaced factory workers. And in today’s workplace, new skills are needed. In Linchpin, Seth Godin describes the new American Dream in the workplace:

Be remarkable.

Be generous.

Create art.

Make judgment calls.

Connect people and ideas.

…and we have no choice but to reward you.

Whatever your job, find ways to reshuffle the pieces, to add or subtract elements to make meaningful change, to test new methods and products, and you’ll be valued.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1000)

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