Examples of the practical use of lateral thinking in the workplace
“Stop competing” example
Lateral thinking tool in play: RANDOM STARTING POINTS
I was appointed General Manager of a group of Australian auction centers … an industry I knew little about.
Let that sink in for a moment . . .
I was given the top job despite not having specific experience
(Why are top jobs often given to people with little or no specific experience? Blinkered Thinking)
The company was in serious financial difficulty.
General auction is “slim pickings” . . . basically, the idea is (or was) to keep the doors open and hope to pick up a “forced” liquidation or major stock clearance with some sort of regularity.
The managers assured me that they had submitted for every known receivership and forced liquidation, and the ONLY reason they didn’t win a proposal was because of the undercutting of rates by competitors. The competition was tough, with strong downward pressure on commissions.
The task at hand was to find a differentiated niche market that would provide reliable profit with minimal competition.
I called a meeting of senior staff. It didn’t take long for the topics to go stale, the “excuses” to become repetitive, and the mood … defeatest!
“There was a sort of unstated consensus in the room that my appointment to the top job was a huge mistake”
‘Please open a magazine to a random page?’ I asked one of the managers, quite unexpectedly. ‘Without looking at the page, point to a random position. What’s the nearest noun or verb?’
‘I’m pointing to a picture of a man sitting at a desk,’ he answered.
‘Okay, it seems to me that we’re extremely competitive in the auction marketplace, and maybe that’s the problem. Competition drives down . . . ‘
I deliberately left the sentence hanging.
‘Profit?’ said a nervous young manager.
‘Exactly. Competition drives down profit, so let’s keep our competing to a minimum.’
‘How?’ it was a chorus of like minds now.
Competition Vs Differentiation
‘Okay, we’ll use “desk” as a RANDOM STARTING POINT to begin some original thinking,’ I said, to some very confused faces. ‘Give me some thoughts around the word “desk”.’
The young manager eventually shot to his feet.
‘We’re selling “seconds” for a local office furniture manufacturer.’
‘Okay, is that profitable?’
‘No. Office furniture has become too competitive with all the cheap stuff coming in from China.’
‘China!’ I might have startled him. ”All this new competition from China is driving a lot of businesses to the wall. Let’s seek them out BEFORE they get into receivership. Even if they’re not at risk of going under, maybe they’ve had enough of the low-profit environment and want to get out of business economically and quickly?’
I took the young manager for an impromptu visit to the furniture manufacturer. Four hours later, we had an agreement in place to market and sell everything “NO RESERVE”.
It was the beginning of a new strategy of building close relationships with businesses that were impacted by cheap imports. Lateral thinking had “disrupted” the established ways we thought about doing business.
“Lateral thinking disrupts what exists and frees your mind to consider alternatives”
Random Starting Points became a regular feature at every meeting of management.
It was fun, team building, and it consistently drove the focus of our meetings towards differentiated, non-competitive thinking.
RSPs weren’t the only lateral thinking tool we used, but they were enthusiastically and regularly employed to a wide variety of challenges and opportunities.
The business substantially moved away from the competition, thrived, and grew.
A simple example of the effective use of one of my favorite lateral thinking tools. (See the Random Starting Points free lesson for a deeper understanding.)
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Change business/workplace outcomes … learn to think creatively:
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“Never enough leads” example
Tool in play: CREATIVE COMBINATIONS
My advertising agency job title was NEW BUSINESS ACCOUNT DIRECTOR. I was young, enthusiastic, and determined to blaze a trail LOL.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d taken on one of the toughest, (if not the toughest), jobs in the advertising industry. I felt very much on my own, so decided to turn things around.
The agency specialized in real estate and recruitment, and I was expected to prospect within those categories. However, after breaking the rules and speaking directly to the creative staff, I realized that they had diverse experience outside those narrow categories.
I approached the Creative Director (first) and asked him what his passion was … boats. He said that he’d love to have a little diversity in the creative demands and we agreed to work TOGETHER to bring on something from the boating field. A few months late we had LLOYD’S SHIPS.
It was the beginning of something … combining the passions of staff with the problem of recruiting new business.
I wasn’t alone … I found myself with an enormous swell of support and creative thinking about new business opportunities. With the agency personnel so solidly behind me, it was always going to succeed
The agency grew and diversified.
Success breeds strong bonds and powerful friendships Thirty years later, I’m still close to more than a dozen of the great people I worked with.
CREATIVE COMBINATIONS had focused and energized the agency’s thrust for new business under my leadership.
(See the Creative Combinations free lesson for a deeper understanding.)
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Stop competing! Be a business leader!!
Businesses must always focus on profitability. At the end of the day, if you ain’t making money, you can’t pay decent wages, performance bonuses, or look after yourself either.
The disruptive creativity of my free lateral and creative thinking course challenges the “experts” to find new ways to differentiate … to profit.
Seriously, do the frigging course and brighten your future.
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“Opening new doors” example
Tool in play: ALTERNATE PERSPECTIVES
I was the Marketing Manager for a company that supplied an “environmentally friendly” and “Australian made” construction material … strong selling points, but most builders wouldn’t pay the higher price.
The sales reps and state managers insisted that we needed to reduce our prices.
At a monthly sales meeting/catchup I decided to “role play” an interaction between a sales rep and a typical builder to see if we could stimulate some new and creative selling strategies.
Our most experience rep acted out a typical sales call to a builder.
The friendly (and curious) business owner from a crane hire company next door “role-played” the builder. I asked him for his thoughts after the rep had finished presenting:
- The rep avoided the issue of cost. Every business needs to know the cost;
- It was unlikely that the builder’s customers would care too much if a tiny input to their enormous project included our product or not;
- The presentation made sense, but it was complicated. Too complicated for the builder to pass on to their clients;
- There would be additional costs involved “briefing in the changes” to design, admin, and trade. A lot of work for no return.
“This is why we need to reduce our prices,” said one of the reps. “There is no benefit for the builder to pay the higher price”
The sales rep was right in one way “There is no benefit for the builder to pay the higher price”
Something came into focus … the builder wasn’t persuaded by our presentation and wanted a “return” (a profit) from any decision to use our products.
Our focus needed to change from:
- Selling our “environmental” and “Australian made” credentials.
- Making it “profitable” to choose our product (without discounting).
Impossible? Not at all.
After weeks of brainstorming ideas, we came up with:
- Instead of discounting, we asked builders if we could “showcase” an example of our product being used in one of their projects;
- We offered to document and film every stage of the process;
- We created “case study” pages and a YouTube channel to promote the studies on our highly optimized website;
- We prominently displayed and promoted the builders that participated;
- We also built comparable pages on the builders’ websites;
- We gave certification of “Australian environmental authenticity” to every building owner (An asset for resale and valuation);
- We used our stronger relationships to work “with” rather than “for” builders’
- We made it easy for builders to show their clients the value of working with a quality Australian and environmental product;
- We made the decision to include our products desirable for builders and their customers;
- We made it easy for the builders’ customers to ask for our product inclusions.
And yes, just occasionally we reminded them that we were Australian made and environmentally friendly … as well.
And … slowly we turned the tide as the builders we worked with felt that we were “contributing to their sales (and therefore also their profits)”.
ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE evolved our approach to GROWING OUR CUSTOMERS’ BUSINESS.
(See the Alternative Perspectives free lesson for a deeper understanding.)
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Make differentiate a habit
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“Don’t pick fights you can’t win” example
Tool in play: CHALLENGE EXISTING CONCEPTS
A small chain of auto wreckers invited our advertising agency to competitively pitch for their business.
THE BRIEF: Make their advertising and branding more effective against strong competition.
The “normal” advertising agency procedure in these circumstances is to “answer the brief” … to compete for the clients’ business.
The disruptive process of lateral thinking is about “not competing” though.
The wreckers spent an awful lot of money promoting themselves … car, bike, and truck racing, signage, auto magazines, and classified advertising (this was before the internet of course). They tried to have a substantial or dominating influence in nearly every media typically supported by their industry (competitors).
The target audience was typically male, under 50, heavily into car racing and car restoration, that was extremely sensitive to PRICE!
“They were heavily competing and making very little money”
So. instead of answering their brief, we asked the question …
“Why do you compete so heavily for such a limited market?”
The question intrigued them.
When the wreckers told us that a high-quality used part will often sell for less than half the price of the new equivalent, we asked if it might be possible to position them as if competing with NEW parts sellers instead of other wreckers … to recreate their image/brand as an “alternative to a new parts” retailer.
Customers walked into clean retail showrooms that featured “specials” and “projects”. They were professionally served by people with clean hands and clothes, Most of the smaller items even came in new packaging.
It turned out to be a huge success.
Our advertising agency would always challenge existing concepts when pitching for new clients.
It was a strategy that didn’t always win the business … but when we did win, we won it in a non-competitive environment.
Our profits were very high, and so too were the profits of clients that employed our strategies.
CHALLENGING EXISTING CONCEPTS is something the “experts” rarely do.
(See the Challenge Existing Concepts free lesson for a deeper understanding.)
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More examples coming soon.
Don’t wait, do the lessons and turn your business away from the competition:
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Think YOU can do this? Take the “test” LOL:
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