The big idea is elusive, at best, and can take years to develop. So, the best organizations develop a consistent pattern of small gains and progress while they’re looking for the big idea. This is the key to progress.
Most of my early business years were spent in search of the silver bullet.
In fact, for nine of my twenty and thirty-something years, I worked for an advertising agency so you could say finding a silver bullet was my job.
Today, it's called a game changers or disruptive technology, but the point is the same. We search for that one idea that will instantly change the fortunes of our business or non-profit enterprise.
Later, in my thirties and forties, I discovered that silver bullets/game changers/disruptive technology is always worth looking for but it's no way to build an organization.
When I was first starting WorkPlace Impact, my first for-profit business, I set a policy that I could not leave the office each day until I had sent 6 personal notes and made 6 calls to potential clients. Interestingly, these were rarely sales calls - I didn't have the stomach for that.
They were just friendly notes and calls. I'd be passing on an article I noticed that might interest them or calling to see how their business was doing or if they were going to a conference I was going to.
I also wrote a newsletter every other month that DID NOT solely push my company but more so discussed my views of issues in our business. The point of my calls, notes and newsletter was never direct sales, necessarily, but was always to show that our company was first class, competent and friendly. We were making friends, building our network.
And early on, these tactics had little immediate impact.
It took what felt like a long time for people to start responding to my notes and calls and newsletters. Over time, though, making just a few new friends a month, I ended up with a lot of friends - specifically a network of about 2,000 people and 100 active clients at any given time.
It seems to me this type of slow but sure strategy is one we often miss these days in our businesses and non-profits. Our society drives us to seek instant gratification; sweeping success; the big idea.
And while I've had a few big ideas over time, for the most part neither business nor life seems to work that way.
This thought became clear to me again over the years while working with my son, Timmy, to build a new restaurant business in Columbus, OH. We are the first franchisee of a concept called Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, based in Dallas, TX.
Timmy has achieved amazing growth with some really cool marketing such as free sampling in radio and newspaper and direct mail. He's also used WorkPlace Impact (Physician, heal thyself!) and tied into wonderful Ohio State institutions such as the "Block O", the Shottenstein Center and the student recreation center.
But if you ask Timmy, he'd tell you his silver bullet to their success has actually been a rather boring program called the "Love Ambassador."
The theme line of the chain is "One Love" so every day one of the employees of each of the restaurants is designated that store's "Love Ambassador." Their job is to choose a couple of local employers where they will deliver a pan of chicken fingers and some free sample cards.
Their real mission, of course, is to make a friend. They don't make discount deals or sell the employer anything, they just try to share their product and chat them up.
That's it. That's Timmy's silver bullet.
And he calls the friends he's made over time his "incremental gains."
You see, he opened the first Raising Cane's restaurant on High Street in Columbus and in the first five years didn't experience a month where sales went down. That's right - 60 consecutive months of same store sales growth.
Timmy says, "Since the Love Ambassador has made about 60 friends a month for 60 months now, I have 3,600 employers and local organizations that I call friends. I can now classify this as a BIG idea."
Does he do other things to build his business?
Of course he does. No restaurant succeeds without the basics - great food served fast and friendly in a clean environment. He also, as referenced above, does some good creative advertising and promotions.
But Timmy swears the main reason Raising Cane's grows is because every day, on the schedule just like breading the chicken and cleaning the fryer traps and bathrooms, is the task of the Love Ambassador.
So what is your organization's silver bullet? Are you in search of the game changing disruptive technology?
If so you might want to consider an incremental gain idea to move you along until you find your silver bullet.