Thursday, January 13, 2005


This must be a week to write about disasters. Yesterday, we had a near disaster in a new business meeting. We were talking to a CEO who asked us to describe our creative idea for marketing his high-tech service. We gave him a wonderful description of what we would do and how this would nail the center of his market and steal a march on his competitors. If I do say so, it was terrific.

There was a pause, and the CEO proceeded to tell us why the idea wouldn't work. It would alienate his customers and cause a severe problem with the company's marketing.

Oops! For a second, a dropping pin would have sounded like bell. It was clear we did not understand the CEO's marketing problem. So, we did the next best thing. We began to ask him questions. Why wouldn't it work? What was the flaw? The CEO explained his predicament. It became clear that the solution was something completely different -- a targeted campaign that hides what the CEO is doing from competitors poised to catch up.

We continued to ask questions, and it dawned on us that our idea could be modified for target markets, if handled carefully. We pulled the idea off the scrap heap, brushed it off, and suggested it again in a new context. To our relief, the CEO said, "That's a good idea."

We left the meeting with a feeling that we had acquitted ourselves, but it was close. We had almost blown ourselves out of the water with a creative bomb. It reminded me of a terrible misfortune that happened to World War II submarines. A submarine would fire a torpedo, and the rudder on the torpedo would suddenly jam to the side and throw the weapon into circle that brought it back to the submarine. The torpedo would frequently sink the submarine with all hands aboard.

We had given the CEO our best shot then watched it circle back and nearly sink us. That's not a great feeling.


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