Breakthrough Strategies

Yesterday’s column offered a suggestion for solving a problem in the music industry, and perhaps you thought it was pretty clever.

In fact it was really simple. All I did was adapt the common practice in one industry to a slightly different industry. In this case, I adapted the practice of what used to be called the “shareware” industry.

The makers of free software had a big problem. People were not licensing their stuff, even after it proved their value to them. So shareware authors stuck ads into the software, a strategy made simpler with the rise of the Internet. (Now the ads could change.)

All I did yesterday was offer to adapt that practice to the problem of MP3. Kids want to download music and play it when they want (not when the radio station plays it for them). The music publishers want to be compensated for the work. I suggested adapting a practice from the software industry to the new problem.

Jay Abraham teaches that you can adopt this habit of mind to your own business, and the result will be strategies that break new ground. If you liked yesterday’s column, you can see that it works.

Lots of clever people have already done this. Federal Express founder Fred Smith, for instance, simply borrowed a page from the Federal Reserve.

For decades the Fed cleared checks overnight by taking them from where they were written to a central facility, then sending them back to the banks on which they were written. Smith adopted this system to package delivery, and the result was a colossus.

Auctions and reverse auctions had been around for decades before eBay and Priceline adapted them to the Internet. For the last five years, we in the Internet space have been cherry-picking these easy-to-find breakthroughs and creating great new businesses.

Now it’s about to get harder. When things get harder, victory goes to those with discipline.

How can you become disciplined in your search for breakthroughs? It’s a mind-set, Abraham writes.

It starts with being alert to opportunity. Bill Gates made his first killing on old McGovern-Eagleton buttons, recognizing that a campaign’s trash might be a collector’s treasure.

The second step toward achieving a breakthrough is accepting the validity of success. Microwave cooking happened when a radio researcher left his lunch too close to the power source. The lunch was ruined, but an industry was born.

The third step toward creating breakthroughs is to learn how to turn failure around. The Post-It note was born from a failed experiment with glue. Glue that stuck only tentatively, and for only a short period of time, was perfect for sticking paper to books.

The fourth and most difficult step is to make this a habit not just for you, but for the people around you. Brainstorming and networking are the keys to combining efforts and coming up with breakthroughs.

The fifth and final step, of course, is to make the search for breakthroughs a habit. Give yourself a goal try to uncover at least one cash windfall for your business (or your employer’s) every three months by being alive to other industries, other successes, and other failures.

Remember that if you can successfully follow up on even one breakthrough idea you can become rich. With discipline and a little thought you can come up with dozens of them.

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