All successful companies must eventually answer the same basic question: How do you establish new growth strategies and business opportunities from within your organization?
That’s exactly what the authors of The Art of Opportunity set out to answer. The book focuses on the concept of Business Design Thinking-- the idea of looking at strategic innovation as a holistic, creative endeavor.
I had to pleasure of interviewing Dr. Marc Sniukas, the mastermind behind the techniques in The Art of Opportunity. Marc is a global expert on strategic innovation, corporate entrepreneurship and business transformation.
Read on to see some of his thoughts on visual thinking and using customer needs as a key source of growth.
JIM: How did The Art of Opportunity come together? What was the genesis of the book?
MARC: The Art of Opportunity is based on two sources: First my research at Manchester Business School into how established organizations design and implement new, innovative business models, and second Parker’s and Matt’s experience of using visual thinking and design thinking for solving strategic problems within organizations.
When I did my research one of the things I learned was that companies launch new business models mostly to seize an opportunity for new growth they had identified.
The Art of Opportunity is all about how to find such opportunities, how seize them with new offerings, business models, and revenue models, and how to validate and launch these ideas in small, low-risk ways, before scaling them up to become full businesses. And we apply visual thinking and design thinking to show readers how to do all of the above.
JIM: The book is indeed very visual. Can you talk a little more about the role of visual thinking in finding business opportunities?
MARC: I just started working with a new client on crafting a new growth strategy: in their last workshop they reviewed a 200+ page presentation with market analysis and data. Needless to say that, at the end of the two-day workshop, they were clueless about how to proceed.
A visual approach to finding opportunities means two things to me: First, you need to use visuals to understand the space you're playing in, as well as the space you're not playing in.
A very simple exercise is to (a) define the market, and then (b) put your existing customers on post-its and map them out. Once done, you (c) do the same with all the customers you do not currently serve. It's often amazing how many post-its you have on the non-customers side versus the actual customers. So there you see already the vast landscape of potential opportunities.
Second, we use visual thinking to better understand customers, their needs, job-to-be-done, their journey to get there and their pains along the way. Visuals are just so much more powerful and better and enabling people to emphasize than plowing through data.
We recently did this for internal customer of an audit department! Can you imagine? The audit department mapping out the journey of their 'customers', the people they audit. But, you can probably tell more about using visuals for customer experience mapping than I can, Jim.
In general I would say that visual approaches enable people to work faster, have better conversations and make better decisions.
JIM: What do mean exactly when you say "low-risk ways" to apply your concepts? Can you let us know a little about that?
MARC: I mean that before you go all in and invest a lot of money into building your offering, or even a whole new business, you should test and validate your business idea in a low-risk way on a small scale.
One of the companies we describe in the book, for example, simply issued a press release announcing that it intends to launch a new offer. The reaction was tremendous, dozens of business customers contacted the company saying they were interested. The organization then picked a handful of potential customers and started doing business with them.
JIM: How can understanding customers and their needs lead to more opportunities for growth and for innovation?
MARC: First of all, if you are looking for serious growth, you will not find it with your existing, most satisfied customers. These customers in all likelihood already buy whatever they need. New growth can be found with unsatisfied or unserved customers. But first you need to understand why they are unhappy or underserved.
Second, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that those innovations, which start with understanding customer needs, are not only more innovative, by they are also more successful financially.
JIM: Satisfaction, happiness, customer needs - sounds like there is a lot of subjectivity involved. How does your approach help businesses innovate in a repeatable way with consistent results?
MARC: Well, at the very least, I can guarantee that you won't waste a fortune on developing an offering or launching a business without knowing whether or not there is a customer for your idea. As we offer a clear process, I also believe that it is replicable.
Often employees are being asked to be innovative or entrepreneurial without really knowing what that means. To me, thinking and acting like an entrepreneur is all about finding and seizing opportunities. And you need to show your employees how this works, what it means to think and act like an innovator or an entrepreneur.
And how to do that is exactly what the Art of Opportunity offers: a replicable process, with specific steps and tools, to find and seize opportunities as well as validate your idea without the need to invest a lot of money.
JIM: Thanks Marc!