10.20.2006

Two Circles

It's a line that's guaranteed to get peoples' attention: "Everything
you could possibly learn in business school, I'm going to summarize in
the next 30 seconds." I exaggerate for dramatic effect, of course,
but I proceed to tell my audience that where your company should be is
at the nexus of organizational strength and market need. Success in
business is really that simple.

Well, not really. But let me back up a bit. The context for most of
these presentations was not a room full of businesspeople but rather
prospective managers of business incubators, who were there to learn
from me some tips on how to get a business incubator off the ground.
In my previous work life, I did a number of presentations on the
subject, advising groups on how to assess the feasibility of their
business incubator initiatives.

And I always came back to those eight words: "the nexus of
organizational strength and market need." I would then draw two big,
overlapping circles, and shade the overlapped part. There's two
points there. First, that the shaded part is where you want to be.
And second, that there are plenty of non-shaded parts where you don't
want to be: doing something you're good at but for which there is no
market need, on the one hand, or doing something for which there is
market need but which you're not good at, on the other.

Of course, these two points are valid in business as well. You can't
make money selling something, however well-conceived, that no one will
ever buy. And you also can't make money selling something, however
hungry the market, that you can't make well.

These two circles also speak to the non-industry sectors, as well,
business incubators being but one example. Social service agencies,
educational institutions, and even government agencies would do well
to get a better handle on their two circles, and make sure their
offerings fall in the shaded area and not in the non-shaded areas.
Churches and ministry groups darn well better figure out how to be in
the shaded area, tempting as it is to do a lot of stuff they're good
at that no one needs or to do a lot of stuff that people desperately
need but that they can't do well.

As I mentioned before, it's not quite as simple as I'm making this out
to be. These two circles take place in a context. For business
incubators, there are two kinds of contexts: macro-economic trends
which are the political, economic, and cultural winds that shape where
the opportunities and threats will be, and ground-level considerations
like the immediate neighborhood or the facility in which the program
will be located. Businesses might consider demographics and the
competitive landscape. Other organizations will have their own
outside forces that affect the drawing of their two circles.

Again, I exaggerate for dramatic effect when I say that this is the
entirety of the MBA experience. But sometimes simpler is better. And
what could be simpler than drawing two circles?

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