A Case For Negative Thinking


I once had a client that made fish products for manufacturers who in turn created packaged delicacies for the end consumer. My client was tempted at one stage to drift into making consumer products themselves. But they had absolutely no experience or competence in this area. It seemed just a step away, but actually there was a gulf of expertise between the two. Fortunately, the client pulled back before embarking on this hazardous path.

In this case the day was saved by asking an important but oft-forgotten question: What are we not?

For companies with a single product or highly focused offering, the question “” poses no difficulty and you can quickly move on. But As an enterprise expands and becomes more complex, this is an issue of critical strategic importance. Rapid success often blinds owners and leads them into areas where they have no business to be.

Needless to say, just because you are not something today doesn’t mean you cannot become it tomorrow. The important thing is that any move from what you are to what you can be should be conscious and intentional, and not based on a misconception of your starting point.

Here is why. By blurring the boundary between what you are and what you are not, you can deceive yourself about competencies. So when you review the question “What are we not?” here is how to do it. Look at what business you are in, and where your core competencies are. Make a list of “cousins” that surround those core essentials — the business activities and sectors closest to your own. You are now staring at a list of pitfalls — pitfalls that could become opportunities, but only if you proceed with eyes wide open.