Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ideas are great. Except when they're not.

   Back when I was running Omega I had a brilliant idea. If we offered recorded statements on our investigations, we'd pick up a nice chuck of extra revenue and profit on many of the assignments we got. I did my best "idiots math". If we only get assignments on 20% of the cases, it will be so awesome, because 20% x the number of investigations x the $$$ for each statement is BIG MONEY. Duhhh. 

   In fairness (to me of course) this was a line of business related to what we did (investigations) and would be pretty easy to sell to our clients. The problem was pretty simple. We sucked at doing recorded statements. Add to that a complete lack of a coherent training program, as well as no real software tools to monitor quality, and you have a classic business screw up. 

   Obviously we should have had all those pieces in place BEFORE we launched. But we were blinded by overconfidence and seduced by the money. Everyone, including some very smart people (not me) were all on board for this idea. In the heat of the moment (or the meeting) it's easy to let enthusiasm get the better of you. People truly assume someone is thinking about the downside, unless nobody is, which can easily happen.

   A secondary screw up is the attention this diverted from what we were already expert in, surveillance. We could crank out surveillance. We had rapid quality recruiting, awesome training, great investigators, superb software. We had it all. Ramp up the demand for it, and we'd meet it. 

   If we'd devoted our time to selling more of what we were good at, we would not have failed. We'd have made an almost certain increase in both sales and profits. So why didn't we? 

   We were looking for adventure. Excitement. The thought of simply expanding our existing offerings was subconsciously boring. So boring that it wasn't discussed. Conversely the new business was so exciting, we assumed our competence would extend through osmosis to this new line of work. WRONG.

   From small businesses to large businesses this situation is common. People selling B2B decide consumers would be such better clients...or vice versa. The ease with which we drift from our circle of competence is frightening. You might ask why I didn't know better. I thought I did. Really. I wasn't THAT guy. 

   The lesson to me is very clear. Stick with what you know until sticking is stupid. Tread into new waters with the absolute greatest trepidation. There will be opportunities, and they should be taken advantage of, but put someone in charge of figuring out why you're wrong. Really. Make it someone's assignment to shoot a torpedo in any new idea you have. 

   While I agree with, and frequently post quotes about, the thinking that it is trying things and making mistakes that lead us to grow, it's good to balance that with some deliberation and caution. There is an exhilaration of the "new" that is very seductive. So it's important to remember: Ideas are great. Except when they're not.

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