Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Systematic, with high tolerances

Being a good marketer/entrepreneur depends on being systematic, but with high tolerances. I came to this conclusion after examining times when I've been successful in the past.

Whenever I need to solve a business problem, I try to take a systematic approach. Being systematic gives me a clear set of tasks, and minimizes the chances that I'll overlook some glaring issue.

For example, if I need to do something I haven't done before, like come up with a positioning statement for an enterprise software product, I start by asking my friends what's worked for them in the past. By sifting through the varying responses, I can craft a compromise plan that (hopefully) is superior to the individual responses. This takes advantage of the general principal that groups are often smarter than individuals, as proven by the classic Subarctic Survival exercise.

Once I have a plan, I follow each step, and proceed systematically towards my goal. Here's where the second part kicks in:

Even though I'm being systematic, I need to have high tolerances. In engineering, when I was machining metal parts, I needed to keep my tolerances to within 1/10,000th of an inch. In marketing and entrepreneurship, I have to have a much bigger tolerance for imprecision and ambiguity. Or, as Guy Kawasaki puts it, I have to be willing to be crappy.

Applying the engineering mentality to marketing (be systematic and have low tolerances) simply doesn't work--the raw materials lack the necessary precision to support those kinds of tolerances. On the other hand, applying a lazy man's mentality (be disorganized and have high tolerances) doesn't give you enough structure to be successful.

You have to balance the two extremes of organization and be systematic with high tolerances.

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