Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Navel gazing

My wife and I used to play a game, typically orchestrated to kill time and foster conversation during nighttime runs through East Sacramento. It went like this: If you were stuck on an island with one (fill in the blank), what would it be? One CD (this was 10-plus years ago, pre-iPod), one band’s music library, one book, one type of food, one drink, one periodical, one TV show, one flavor of ice cream, etcetera. Great fun.

Our “stuck with one” game germinated a new question: If you were stuck on an island with a laptop (a Mac, of course) and could access only one Web site (think: dumb terminal), which would you choose? Google is an obvious one, but – based on my strict rules of engagement – you’re prohibited from leaving the site. Scratch it. Wikipedia would rock, but may be a bit boring. YouTube? Solid candidate. iTunes too, presuming you had a credit card/an ability to buy anything you wanted to view or hear.

A more pragmatic question: If your company ceased to exist (e.g., if you were deported to an incommunicable island), what would the world lose? Who would be deprived? How would your beneficiaries fill their then unmet needs?

Answers to these no duh! questions are at the root of effective business strategy: candid knowledge of your customers and complementors, the differential value you deliver, and the competitive alternatives available. Who really cares about my business, and why? It’s a sobering and revealing navel-gazing exercise.

Unfortunately, most companies fail to (are scared to?) effectively take a look. Perhaps we should invent a navelgazescope.

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