A Deserted Island is the Place to Start

by Martin Overby

The life of Robinson Crusoe, it catches our imagination immediately. To be stranded on a tropical island and make the barren place our home--by our wits--what an interesting story. We admire the man because he took the situation as it came to him and survived bountifully. Ingenuity was his greatest asset - using a few tools and unlimited time.

Crusoe was trained as a navigator and experienced as a trader - only to be stranded in a place where he needed the skills of a builder and farmer to survive. When we begin our business endeavor or perhaps continue in it, there comes a point when we must surpass what we've learned along the way and move into 'uncharted waters'. We will need to adapt or develop something that's completely new to us. Making a tent from a sail, Crusoe found shelter from the rain and sun. Survival was the immediate motivation for the stranded man and yet our business's vitality depends on taking new steps. Crusoe struggled with the desperation of his situation and refused to give up hope.

Major obstacles may stand in our way- for instance: How do I get off this island? The first simple step is to try making a canoe. We optimistically expect problems to be solved with one dramatic burst of ingenuity. This probably never happens large problems are solved bit by bit. Our experiments may fail but they prove useful in guiding our next attempt. The larger our endeavor, the more cycles we can expect in the experimentation process. Perhaps it's fair to say that experimentation is a fundamental business discipline.

The most difficult problems are approached by applying new technologies in unprecedented ways. We may bring in experts to consult on the problem, and find we have to challenge them to think in new ways. Their knowledge notwithstanding, they approach problems in a conventional manner - when the solution may be found only by unconventional application of known technologies. Our motor car is just such an object - a motorized cart, instead of horse cart. It was considered an infernal machine upon its introduction, but yesterday's innovation is today's necessity.

With any new development there are the costs and risks to consider. It's important to pause before we begin spending money on something - to be very clear what benefits we expect from the expense. Will we gain more time, more sales, better profit margin? It's worth doing financial estimates and remembering that we must reap more than we sow for the project to be worth it.

The pressure of globalisation in industry, fashion and marketing means that to keep up with our competitors, we need to look for change. It's becoming increasingly common for customers to say - What's new? They expect 'newness', and if we don't comply we will eventually lose that contact. Having something new and innovative gives a business momentum. Even failed experiments can garner attention and initiate momentum. Think recently of the fiasco of Hoover's free flights to America coupon or the debacle of Coke's attempted improvement of Coca-Cola. Both companies rebounded and are stronger than ever.

Let's not forget old Robinson Crusoe yet. Even living alone, he had a progressive nature - he was bent on improving his state. If he had lost hope, his end would quickly have determined itself. In the end, he sailed off the island, and upon reflection, thought that those years alone were well spent. For us, though his story was a work of fiction, it was well told as a guide to using one's imagination in a difficult situation--triumphantly.

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