Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fishing for Ideas

Fishing passion must skip generations. My dad loved it and my son loves it, but I never got the fishing bug. In spite of not knowing much about fishing, I think it perfectly illustrates today’s blog principle.

When fishing with a lure, you cast your line out as far as it can go and then you start reeling the line in a little bit. As you reel in your line, it makes the lure on the end of your line start to wiggle like a fish in distress. This movement attracts the attention of fishes in the area who decide to pounce on what they think is a vulnerable fish to eat.

Instead, the fish ends up with its mouth on one of your hooks, so that you can reel it in.
After casting, the experts say that you should not reel in the lure as a steady, mindless motion, but rather reel it in with greater awareness and activity, so that you can make it appear more like a real fish. That will make it a more appealing lure to the real fish.

In the business world, we often go fishing as well. However, instead of looking for fish, companies fish for exciting new business ideas. As mentioned in yesterday’s blog (see "Spalding Water”), fresh new ideas are often desirable, because then you are not competing for business in a space that is already owned by someone else.

To catch a fish with a lure, you need to overcast—that is, cast beyond the point where you are expecting to catch a fish. That way, you have room to wiggle the lure as you reel it back in to where the fish are.

Catching new ideas can often act in a similar manner. First you cast your mind out into a particular idea space—well beyond where you think you will find practical new ideas. Then you pull your mind back a little closer to current reality. As you do so, you let your mind wiggle around and look at all that is around it. As you wiggle around with your mental hooks out, you will find yourself snagging onto an idea. Then you reel it into your boat to see if the idea is a “keeper.”

The principle here is the principle of “the ludicrous extreme.” If you are trying to find the next big thing, you typically will not find it by venturing out only slightly from today’s reality. Incremental movements usually only lead to small incremental benefits. They are not really new ideas, but rather just small variations on what is already available in the marketplace.

That would be like successfully selling vanilla ice cream and incrementally moving to vanilla ice cream with a few chocolate swirls in it. It is only an incremental change, not a game changer, so don’t expect the switch to set the world on fire for your products. However, if you were to have gone out on the edge and been the first to introduce smoothies, then you would have something.

This is like Coke versus Pepsi. While Coke was fiddling around on making incremental variations to cola (Coke with Vanilla, Coke with Lime, etc.), Pepsi was looking out on the edge to see where the fringe beverages were. Pepsi got in early with things like sports drinks (nabbing Gatorade), SoBe drinks, energy drinks (No Fear, Adrenaline Rush), bottled teas (in partnership with Lipton), ready-to-drink coffee (Fappucchino and Double Shot in partnership with Starbucks), and so on. Getting to the leading edge early allowed it to capture or partner with leading brands and be in the best position to benefit when the fringe became mainstream. This has worked out better than the incrementalism at Coke (who has recently been trying to play catch up in these new categories after Pepsi has already claimed a leadership position).

If you want to find the big fish of ideas, you need to look further out on the edges of today’s reality into new territory. Small risks only get you small rewards.

It is on the fringes of today’s acceptable or achievable behavior where you will find glimpses of what might be tomorrow’s big new idea. That’s where the leading edge people are (the one’s who set the new trends which the mainstream eventually follows). That is where the leading edge technological capabilities are (the art of the possible). That is where today’s radical idea is, which will become tomorrow’s mainstream business opportunity.

Remember when only radical fringe extremists, called “tree-huggers” seemed to care about the environment? Now, it is one of the hottest new mainstream growth areas in business. So how do we find the proper fringe area to get the next big idea?

This is a process I call reaching out to the ludicrous extreme. It is taking your mind out in a particular direction as far as it can go. It is ludicrous, because if you cast your mind out too far, you will come up with ideas which are too radical or too impractical and may never come to pass in your lifetime.

However, as with lure fishing, the important location is not where you initially cast, but where your lure is when you start reeling it back in a bit. When you start with the ludicrous extreme, you know you have gone too far. However, it allows you the opportunity to start pulling your mind back through things which have a greater potential for success. Unless you cast your mind out beyond the fringe of practicality, you will never know how far out the practical fringe lies. The edge can only be found when you venture beyond the edge.

Let’s look at another trend which is moving from the fringes towards mainstream—people wanting to take more direct control over their health care. If you were to start from today and try to step forward a few paces, you might see your future potential as starting up a web page that helps people control how they inform themselves about medical issues. Nice, but probably not the potential home run.

What if we go to the ludicrous extreme? That would be to devise a way so that people could eliminate the doctors out of the equation completely and perform open heart surgery on themselves. Well, that’s not too practical, since after the anesthesia, it would be hard to perform your own surgery. So maybe open heart surgery is out, but what other ways can you get to curing yourself without the need for involving doctors?

Well, Royal Philips Electronics NV, the consumer electronics firm is betting its future on redesigning medical devices, like defibrillators, so that the average person can have one and operate it themselves, without the need for doctors or trips to medical facilities. In other words, eliminate the need for doctors and put control in the hands of consumers through advanced technology which simplifies it for the common person.

Retailers, like the major drug store chains, supermarkets, and even Wal-Mart are putting medical clinics inside their stores. There are no doctors, but there are trained nurse practitioners, and sometimes Physician Assistants. They are open convenient hours in your local neighborhood and will see you without an appointment. It costs less than visiting a doctor. You can get simple ailments taken care of and get health forms for your children to participate in sports taken care of. The doctors are frozen out of the loop. For more information, check out their trade association site,

Doctors are getting so concerned about being frozen out of the loop that they have persuaded the AMA to ask federal and state agencies to investigate this trend to try to get the government to shut it down.

So, as you can see, if you look out to the ludicrous extreme, you may end up with more radical solutions than if you just venture forward a few steps.

Businesses need great new ideas to leap ahead of the pack and win the rewards. The best way to find them is to spend some time out on the fringe. The best way to find the fringe is to cast your mind out to the ludicrous extreme and then reel your mind back in until you find the fringe.

After catching a fish, it does you know good if you do not know how to prepare it for eating. Similarly, catching a great idea does no good if you have no idea of how to bring the idea to reality.

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