Twice as smart as that

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Twice as smart as that

Twice as smart as that

26 May 2020

Business development is hard work. If you are a business developer like me then you know that there is no magic formula for overnight success. Our job is not to be clairvoyant.
Rather, we need to stay firmly grounded in the present and decide what activities to do now that will prepare us for an uncertain future.

Dr. H. Igor Ansoff, the father of strategic management, wrote a groundbreaking article back in 1957 entitled Strategies for Diversification. It begins:

The Red Queen said,
“Now, here, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.
If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
Lewis J Carroll - Through the Looking Glass

The relevance for us business developers, as Ansoff writes, is:

[…] just to retain its relative position, a business firm must go through continuous growth and change. To improve its position, it must grow and change at least “twice as fast as that."

For companies with the means, the product-market strategies he describes remain valid to this day. The reality for small businesses, however, is quite different. Applying Ansoff’s analogy to the small business experience is revealing.

Just to retain our relative position, we are already running at capacity to go through continuous growth and change. To improve our position, growing and changing “twice as fast as that” sounds like a luxury that we can hardly afford.

Many small companies operate on a shoestring budget. The resource-starved business developer knows that the company needs to prepare for the future, but does not have the means to pursue large-scale market development.

Does this describe the state of your business?

At bioScene, we have tried and _failed to go_ “twice as fast as that.” We have also observed our clients grapple with this very predicament when attempting to grow their business in Japan. Some succeed, some struggle, while some fail and pull out of the market. By actually living this struggle and working with small businesses as insiders, we have garnered many insights about the challenges a small business has to overcome when attempting to develop a foreign market.

The most important insight is:

As a small company, acquiring the resources that enable us to “run twice as fast as that” is a losing battle.

For a business that is already hurting for resources, thinking strategically is better than doubling your efforts. Sun Tzu wrote: “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.” Heeding his advice, we are strategically withdrawing from this battle that we do not have the resources to fight right now. Instead we are preparing our troops and laying the groundwork to ensure that we are in the best possible position to win the battle when we choose to fight it. The key word here is “preparing”. We continue to prepare for our future battle by doing incremental explorative market development within our means.

As a small company undergoing “organic” growth, our resources are extremely limited. In this environment, we are forced to become practitioners of lean and agile concepts. We have learned (the hard way!) how to reuse, recycle and repair what little we have, to improve efficiency and reduce waste. We may not be able to yet “run twice as fast as that”, but through trial and error we have figured out how to run “twice as smart as that” instead.

Based on our learnings, we are now building tools that will enable business developers at small companies to concentrate their extremely limited time and resources on smart market development. We believe that small businesses can take small, incremental and achievable steps to grow new markets.

Not twice as fast as that. Twice as smart as that.

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