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Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Where is Your Slaughterhouse?
You have a product or service you would like to sell, but far too often you find yourself wishing ...
"If only I could come up with a way to totally differentiate what it is we do. If only there was a way we could come up with something that would make us stand out and stand apart from our competitors".
The first step is to realize there is nothing unique about your problem.
Thousands of people have already faced and defeated challenges exactly like yours, once they paused long enough to look under the hood. Don't let the make and model fool you. Once you pop the hood, it's the same shit, only different.
For many, history class was the most boring subject ever taught in school, but only through understanding the lessons of history will you be able to predict and shape your future.
The automobile was first invented in the 1800’s and for the better part of 50-60 years, vehicles were assembled one at a time. It was both time-consuming and expensive and many companies fought the same war the same way. In fact, between 1900 and 1908, there were 502 automotive manufacturers in the United States alone.
But everything changed in 1908. That's when Henry visited a Chicago slaughterhouse and watched what an army of butchers were doing to strip carcasses on a dis-assembly line. He observed how each worker performed a singular task, then passed their work onto the next person in line.
Henry Ford saw common patterns that could be applied to his business. Before long cars were coming off the line in three-minute intervals. Ford's competitive advantage soared. Hundreds of other automakers who refused to adapt eventually went broke and were forced to shut down.
What few understand is that Henry didn't invent anything new. He simply borrowed a parallel concept from a totally unrelated industry or discipline and with a few modifications applied it to his own. On the surface, butchering hogs and cattle has nothing to do with building cars, but the common patterns that could be borrowed from a Chicago slaughterhouse were uncommonly clear to Henry Ford.
In the 1990's, Steven Sanger was the CEO of General Mills a company that was making more than a million dollars and hour, 24/7/365. But in order to stay ahead, Sanger needed to improve efficiencies within factories that made things like cookies and cereal. In the case of General Mills, the common patterns were detected by studying efficiency models in the pit crews at a NASCAR race. And what once stalled General Mills plants all over the world for 5-6 hours was sliced to an average of 17 minutes, once Sanger found his "slaughterhouse".
Far too often the easy way out is found by popping a hood called "best practices”. The logic seems solid. "Why reinvent the wheel?" “Let’s just copy what everyone else is doing."
But in many cases, "best practices" is often a road to second-rate mediocrity.
And why in the world would you strive to play second banana to what some competitor) is already doing?
Start popping the hood under other industries and other disciplines. You may find your answers from studying World War II military tactics, the evaluation process behind the NFL draft and scouting combines, the tribal nature of religious cults, or the sub-atomic properties of plants and animals.
Where you find your "slaughterhouse" matters little.
What matters is that you start looking.
In a previous life, Kevin was faced with the challenge of re-packaging high end business software for the consumer market. To cut down on development costs, Kevin noticed a common pattern from his experiences in the cat food industry, where many different flavors were based on two simple paste formulas; beef and tuna. Once Kevin identified cat food as his "slaughterhouse", software development was based on two platforms; reading and math. Development costs dropped substantially, stock price soared from $8 to $54 dollars a share and the company was eventually sold to Mattel for $4.2 billion dollars.
Does that help explain why Kevin O'Leary has been able to slaughter the markets and a host of wanna-be entrepreneurs on CBC's "Dragons Den"?
Henry Ford, Steven Sanger and Kevin O'Leary saw the value in popping the hood to see what was really underneath other industries, processes, products, or disciplines. So if you're looking to light the lamp of innovation, start looking around and then ask the following questions:
• What are the specifics of the problem you’re trying to solve?
• Who else has faced a similar type challenge?
• How did they solve it?
• What can you adapt, borrow and apply to your situation?
The world is full of "slaughterhouses" waiting for you to discover common patterns.
Imagine what will happen to your world when you find yours.
"One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do"
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