This is a personal opinion, but the more projects I work into, the more I think that one fudamental skill missing for successful technology-based innovation is “strategic thinking”. This, still in my personal experience, is related to a lack of analytical and structured thinking and, as baseline for this, the fact that most of the times we should study harder.
Why do I say so?
Over a 60% of the R&I projects I have worked into in the last 15 years had not analysed the contextual state-of-the-art with an strategic approach before starting the project (sometimes, even when finishing it!). Even more: probably more than 30% had not a complete and updated understanding of competitors, alternatives, limits and gaps, and critical comparison variables.
Over a 60% of the entrepreneurship projects I have worked into, neither had studied in depth their potential market and customer segments (their real reasons to buy, the existing barriers for them to adopt the new technology, the portion of the market/segment they really serve…).
What relation does this have with studying and strategic thinking?
If we agree the 2 issues above (understanding how we differentiate from competitors or the added value we will create + knowing our target customers well enough to make sure we offer something they really need or could want to pay for) are crucial for the potential success of an R&I project, we can also understand that we need information in order to solve them:
1.- Who are our competitors, existing or potential? Who look alike or somehow run next to us but are not really competitors (could even become allies)? Who solves the same need than we do and how? What are the critical variables for entering the markets, grow and offer unique benefits? How do we really compare with competitors in relation to these variables? Where are the gaps and opportunities for differentiation?
2.- Who are our target users / clients? What is their profile? How many of them there are? What they really buy for? How and when?
Tool for structuring our studying of target market (Serviceable Available Market, SAM) and market segmentation provided at www.innowizard.eu
In order to get this information, we need to study hard. Additionally, we cannot expect to find the answers we seek for directly in this information. Taking decisions like how to evolve our product, who to hire, what allies to look for, where to invest and who to tell what, will need to apply strategic thinking while studying.
How to think strategically about competitors and users/customers?
I can give you several grander advices:
- Firstly, take your time in thinking what information you really need and what for, and control yourself from surfing too much time outside this scope (although some time “out of the box” is always worth it). The more specific you are, the better. And remember the objective is to help taking a better decision, not just “doing homework”: If you just want to say you have studied the issue without being critic about whether you did it deeper or shallower, you will not be helping yourself;
- Then, think of how you could structure the information so that it serves the purpose you aim at with your studying (the table for comparing with competitors is an example, if you want to identify where do you really differentiate from them or which opportunity you could pursue that they are missing);
- Finally, focus and study; think, analyse and study more; iterate and pivot; dream. This is like medicine vs poison: it is a matter of the right dose. If it is too little, you will die from disease; if it is too much, you will die from “infoxication”. Normally, if you did step 1 properly, you will be able to dedicate the proper amount of time to this (although it is important to set alerts if you are not advancing in meeting the purpose);
- At the very end, is the step of TAKING DECISIONS, in which we will focus our next article (it’s cooking in the oven!).
Just one last thing:
- In relation to competitors, think carefully about who they really are. I have seen cases in which the list of potential competitors seemed infinite, so the entrepreneur just didn´t look at them anymore, nor mentioned them to others (who, of course, always wonder about it). However, many times the source of this problem was that they lacked specific and relevant market fit (indeed, the top-1 cause for start-up failure worldwide). If you have a clear vision around what are you offering that is really unique, focus on the people that really consider this is a crucial/compulsory requirement (or vice versa) and “scratch from the table” those that might have similar technology but could not address that customer pain or demand. Alternatively, you can try to group them and study them at category level. But you do need to face competition.
- In relation to target markets, I have seen very often the mistake of considering the TAM (Total Available Market) is our potential ground for growth. It is only a portion of it that we can really serve to! And if we don’t know which portion, we will be wasting golden resources talking to people that will never ever buy or accompany us, and/or will be calculating very wrong financial estimations (which will not be credible to investors, in example).
Author: Eva García Muntión
- Lessons from a Grander 2: Think it carefully, my dear
- Interview to one of our favourite start-ups, showing beautifully the path from research to people and from academia to enterprise.
For 20 years I have been working in technology consultancy, the last 15 focused in the design, launch, implementation and exploitation of R&I projects. I have helped more than 300 companies and institutions to define, improve and grow their projects, strengthening the needs they aim at covering and the suggested technological solutions, increasing their innovation potential and competitiveness, and supporting the usage of results either for feeding new R&D efficiently, or with commercial and entrepreneurial purposes.
Along this way, I have learnt many things and studied so much, and I will keep on doing both. Today, I want to write about one of the very general conclusions I have gained: Words are vital, and those who work in advanced, high added-value consultancy need a new word that really describes what we offer and differentiates us from other types of consultancy and support stakeholders.
I have thought about this so many times, and I think I finally found the word I was looking for: GRANDING.
Granding comes from grandparent, and also a little from “grande”, which is the vocation of those working into this: Help project grow big.
Let’s think for a moment about what we are trying to contribute with:
- On one hand, we offer advice based on experience and knowledge complementary to our clients’. Sometimes in the form of questions, other as answers. Normally very kindly and assertive; never imposing, although firmly if needed and without mincing words;
- We also teach people behind the projects around that experience and knowledge, directly as well as indirectly during the hand-in-hand work.
- On the other hand, we think on how to help the projects we are working into day and night, in each thing we do, hear or see. And we get involved in them as if they were ours, becoming an active part on the day-to-day they require.
- We help planning decisions, and keep continuous monitoring of activities and results. We will be ready to test and fail and keep our support, strongly wishing that it will become successful.
- We keep a long-term vision over the projects, so that not only they create a yesterday, a today and a tomorrow, but also a “when I grow up…”.
- We do networking seeking for alliances that can help consolidating and advancing the projects, amongst our current contacts or creating new ones.
For these projects, we are somehow similar to what grandparents do in personal life, at least the way I lived them. This is Granding; and in this blog I am writing about concepts, strategies, goals, methodologies, tools… Granding uses, and any other thing I can think of in relation to the points listed above.
Author: Eva García Muntión
- Lessons from a Grander 1: You need to study harder
- Lessons from a Grander 2: Think it carefully, my dear