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Strategic Thinking and Lemonade

The Pivotal Peak Alliance, our peer group of sales leaders, recently delved into the importance of strategic thinking. We threw them into a simple exercise where they had to craft a growth strategy for launching and managing a lemonade stand. Let me tell you, this bunch was beyond awesome! Talk about thinking outside the box! They threw out ideas like partnering with youth soccer programs (with some of the profits going to the league), creating an app that tells you which lemonade stands are open nearby, setting up a Facebook page to show who's sipping lemonade, and more. These were some seriously creative ideas. They were given the green light to think wildly, and the results were downright fantastic.

But here's where it gets interesting. We then asked them to apply this same kind of thinking to their own businesses. The outcome was pretty surprising. These same energetic, creative folks found themselves somewhat stuck. Why, you ask? Well, many of them felt shackled by their current situations. When pondering the lemonade stand, the sky was the limit. Yet, when considering their own companies, we heard phrases like “We've tried that before, and it didn't work,” “Our competitors are already doing that,” and “We'd need a hefty investment, but our company won't go for it.” They were prematurely nixing their own ideas.

So, we threw one more exercise at them: the sales leader for each business couldn't say a word or shoot down ideas. Their colleagues from other businesses had to brainstorm ideas for their silent teammate, and boy, did they deliver! Each group churned out several promising ideas for their teammate to explore further, and the ideas were golden. Sometimes one idea would trigger another, and it became a chain reaction of creativity. This went on until a bunch of fantastic ideas filled the table.

Now, what's the big lesson here? Strategic thinking isn't the same as strategic planning. When your mind instantly jumps to budgets, limitations, and resource needs, it stifles your ability to think beyond the norm. Consequently, the next game-changing idea that could revolutionize your company remains unrealized. When practicing strategic thinking, treat it like a brainstorming session; there's no such thing as a bad idea. Get everything out of your head and onto paper, no matter how bizarre it may sound. There'll be plenty of time later to prioritize or eliminate ideas. But don't rush that part of the process. Embrace the power of iteration—take that weird idea and keep refining it until it morphs into something viable and achievable.

Only after you've exhausted your idea bank should you ask yourself the following questions:

  • How big is the opportunity? What revenue or profit could it potentially add if executed successfully?
  • Who's already doing it? Are they doing it well? Can you outshine them?
  • How will it impact our current business? Be cautious not to divert your focus from your core operations.
  • What will it divert our attention from? Are there other crucial matters that need addressing?
  • What are the risks? If the idea flops, how significant will the consequences be? How can we test the idea?
  • What if we don't do it? Will we continue growing without it? Could someone else beat us to the punch?

This is the point to start filtering or refining ideas. But remember, the power of restriction can snuff out the power of possibility. Don't let that happen, because somewhere out there, there's a competitor, new or existing, whose thinking knows no bounds. And guess what? They're eagerly waiting to launch something innovative that could give your business a run for its money.

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