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Every individual, team and company might benefit from periodically going through an exercise of re-imagining themselves as if they were a start-up beginning again with a blank sheet of paper.

A time to consider this exercise is either when you feel you are at an impasse, or you sense a rapidly changing environment.

Even if neither of these occur re-thinking things every three or four years can be re-vitalizing in either confirming the contours of your life, company and career or adjusting without being under much external duress.

The Re-imagining exercise.

The exercise consists of four steps.

1)    Asset listing.

2)    The real constraints.

3)    Define/Select the challenge.

4)    Re-invent and Re-Imagine.

The exercise should be done with a diverse (backgrounds, skill sets and more) group of people if you are doing this for a company or team but also if you are doing this for yourself. 

If you are doing it as an individual re-thinking your future include at least two or three people besides yourself who know you well (a partner, a colleague, a mentor/old boss, a friend).

Diverse views ensure planning with a sense of upbeat reality versus delusional fantasy.

Asset Listing.

Every individual, team and company have assets.

These assets may be depth of talent, financial wealth, heritage, expertise, skills, reputation, good will, clients, brands, family, connections, partners, distribution networks…

Sometimes an asset maybe you, your team and company have little to lose.

No one has nothing and often much more than we originally believed when we take stock.

List the assets.

The real constraints.

Now list the constraints that you must live under and cannot get rid of under any circumstances.

Many constraints are works of imagination and not real constraints.

Usually there are only three real constraints for companies and teams and four for individuals.

a)     The Law: You cannot break the law or do something illegal.

b)    Science: You cannot pretend there is no gravity for instance or imagine technology that does not exist today.

c)     Financial Reality: Limited funds or the need to break even in x number of years.

d)    Family: For individuals doing this exercise an additional constraint is their family reality (which often is their biggest asset but limits optionality).

In most cases the constraints tend to be of the financial type and these need to be interrogated and not accepted at face value.

Gillette placed a constraint of protecting margins versus launching a lower cost blade and believed they could not cannibalize their existing retailer network by selling directly via subscriptions and therefore eventually suffered an 8-billion-dollar write-down due to losing share to Dollar Shave Club and others.

Another big constraint companies or individuals place on themselves is allowing themselves to be narrowly defined. We compete in this category which we define like this… (Hotels did not pay attention to Airbnb, auto companies did not pay attention to Tesla or Uber because they self-limited and self-curtailed themselves.)

If you do not have a skill, you can acquire it. If you company’s scale does not allow it to move fast you can start, fund and staff a smaller unit or buy a smaller unit.

Individuals often practice all sorts of self-limitation or self-curtailment such as pricing themselves out of their dreams by living a lifestyle that impresses others but robs them of their options or believing it is too late to re-imagine or re-start.

It is never too late to become who we want to be or are.

List the absolute constraints.

Define the Challenge.

What is bothering you or creating a problem for your team or your company?

A new competitor creating a loss of market share? Category dynamics reducing your relevance or competitiveness in winning or keeping Clients? High employee turnover or inability to attract or retain clients? Stalling out at work and not growing?

Or it may be more of an opportunity?

How to scale and build expertise in a new category? How to deal with demand that you cannot meet or deliver with a certain quality slippage? How to take the plunge into a new career?

One of the most important steps in solving for a problem and coming up with a new solution is to ask the right questions. For more on this please read “The perils of asking the wrong questions”

Here are three ways you and your firm may minimize the risk of asking the wrong question:

1.Look at the question you are trying to ask and turn it around and see if it makes more sense.

Here is an example: Should you focus on how to get the cheapest arrows, or should you be asking how you can get the best archers?

Paying more for quality is always cheaper in the long run since it/they tend to work faster, think better, last longer and signal to your organization that you understand that buying cheap pigs maybe buying diseased pigs and could lead to poisoned hot dogs.

2. No question is off limits. Nothing is written. No sacred cows.

Time and time again we find that the idea for the next big thing was born in the last big thing, but the management of the last big thing squashed the idea since it did not fit in the business model.

Or we find that the problem was clear for all to see but was looked away from since it would mean the person who called it out might lose their job.

The brown moist thing in the middle of the table is not always a brownie it could be a turd. To ensure people call out the turd on the table please read “The turd on the table”.

Re-Invent and Re-Imagine.

You can access any or all the assets you have listed.

Your only constraints are those of the law, the rules of science and some real “impossible to get rid of” constraints.

You have a clearly defined challenge.

Now imagine if you were starting with a blank sheet of paper.

How would you address the challenge being able to leverage all your assets but none of the stuff you do not want while working with the limited constraints.

Imagine you are a new competitor trying to disrupt or replace you.

 With all your assets, none of your legacy thinking and limited constraints what would you do?

Everything is flexible.

You and the people who are working with you will come up with brilliant and compelling ideas because you will have changed your mindset in three ways.

a)     You have gone from defense to offense.

b)    You have stopped being constrained and anchored by legacy mindset and fear.

c)     You have unleashed the creativity and positivity accompanying building and solving.

Once you have done this exercise and have generated one or two great ideas it is time to make them real and tangible in a hurry.

Why? If you have thought of something that could solve or address a challenge better than you are doing now it won’t be long till one of your current competitors or a new competitor will puts it into motion.

To be a start-up one does not need to just think like a start-up.

But to take the plunge, act with urgency and move forward.

Just start.

Photography by Sandra Bartocha.


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Rishad Tobaccowala is an author, advisor, speaker, and educator who distills four decades of experience to help people see, think, and feel differently so they can grow their companies, their teams and themselves.  More about Rishad’s advisory services, best-selling book, and the range of topics of 10 popular workshops can be found here… latest changes have been saved.Version history


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