If you type “how to grow your business” in Google, most of the articles you’ll find on the topic will contain similar advice: set a clear goal, have a detailed marketing plan, be consistent… These tips are generally fine if you want to achieve average success. However, if your goal is to be among the best, you might need to take a different approach.
Counterintuitive strategy means doing the opposite to what your intuition tells you to do. Your intuition is probably based on your past experience and the information or misinformation you’ve picked up along the way. Some of the greatest, most influential entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, are known for out-of-the-box thinking. It’s precisely what has set them apart in the marketplace.
There’s no doubt that deploying counterintuitive strategies means taking risks; however, it can be an efficient way to grow your business and stand apart from the competition if you get it right. It’s not just a technique to grow a business either. Tech giants like Facebook and Google also use counterintuitive strategies as a way to retain top talent.
5 Counterintuitive Strategies to Grow Your Business
1. Think small
Very few businesses make it overnight and those that do probably have an influential leader at the helm with plenty of success already banked and plenty of venture capital to burn through.
Most of us can’t start a business and expect it to be a breeze. Even the biggest successes are usually built on small, incremental improvement.
Most business coaches and consultants will encourage you to ‘think big’. While that’s great in theory and there is value in it, there is no magic bullet. When we read about top performing companies, we only see the highlights and greatest successes. What we don’t see is how they got there. We don’t see the trials and failures, or how they learned from their mistakes.
Just think of Facebook – it started off as a social network for Harvard students and alumni. After three years, it opened up to people who didn’t have university emails and soon became one of the largest websites in the world, visited by 400 million people monthly. Similarly, Starbucks was just a small coffee shop in Seattle founded in the 1970s and didn’t start expanding until the 1980s.
We all perceive great visionaries as people who had a very clear picture of the future. But sometimes it’s better to get started in the general direction, build momentum and correct course later.
2. Move the goal posts
You’ve probably heard it a bunch of times in the past; you need to set SMART goals to achieve success. It’s a mantra firmly fixed in the minds of almost all leaders and entrepreneurs. But what if your SMART goals were costing you many opportunities? If you are starting a small business, one of your greatest assets is how flexible and responsive you can be. Use your strengths to advantage. For example, if something newsworthy occurred in your industry, get cracking and publish it on your blog immediately. If you can be one of the first to cover the topic, there can be a great benefit. Who cares if you’ve already reached your goal of one post a month – it’s red hot, so take the opportunity while it’s there.
If you have set your goals in concrete, then you feel obliged to chase them. But that might mean missing the opportunity that’s staring you right in the face.
To many, the transition from having strictly defined goals to staying flexible is a challenge. Living and working with flexibility allows you space for creativity, gives you an opportunity to explore new territories and learn new things. Richard Branson, the founded the Virgin Group, claims that you should always follow your gut: “I never get the accountants in before I start up a business. It’s done on gut feeling…” The mogul believes that working on something you truly care about increases the chances of success. It’s an attitude we also see Virgin Australia’s John Borghetti. John strongly advocates not doing things by the book and not being intimidated by people you laugh at you for what you believe in. It’s sound advice!
3. Find what your competitors suck at
So many business-owners look at what their competitors do well and replicate it. They’ll find elements from a range of competitors that they like and mash them together into their own business. They’ll describe their blend of attributes as what makes them unique. While this may work, it’s far easier to discover what your industry is terrible at and find a solution to that problem. If your industry is known for being late, how do you ensure you always deliver on time? If your industry is known for going over budget, how do you ensure a fixed price?
Put your audience’s perspective first. It’s far easier to build a meaningful, long-term relationship with your customers and prospects when you’ve dealt with their concerns about your industry up front. Nobody wants a self-centred promoter.
Salvatore Malatesta, an entrepreneur and CEO behind St Ali Family, is a living proof that knowing how your target audience is thinking can have a huge impact on your business. When he was studying at the University of Melbourne he was disappointed by the beverage and food offering, so during his third year, he opened the first cafe on campus. “I think being the end user, and having an innate understanding of what’s needed, was definitely an advantage. I was a student and I knew that students would pay for good coffee.” By the time he graduated he had fifteen venues!
4. Change your mind
Have the courage to change your mind despite the fact that you may look inconsistent. Consistency is practically one of the key marketing commandments so this counterintuitive tip might have you bristling up. When it comes to business decisions, sticking to your core values is generally the right thing to do, but there are reasons why it could be holding you back.
The common assumption is that holding on to your original plan demonstrates perseverance and dedication. On the other hand, frequently changing our mind makes us look like we lack confidence and makes us look indecisive. However, one of the richest Americans disagrees. Jeff Bezos, the founder, CEO, and president of Amazon, said: “people who are right a lot often change their minds”. Another famous example is Steve Jobs, who was known for changing his mind frequently, sometimes on a daily basis.
Smart people revisit their decisions after gathering fresh information. They get new ideas, new perspectives, and challenge their own way of thinking. They never stop learning and improving.
This doesn’t mean you should change your mind regularly and with no good reason. Changing your mind is useful only if done for the right reasons; for instance, when there’s new information available or there is a shift in your industry that you need to keep up-to-date with to stay relevant. Being open-minded means asking questions and learning new things, which sets the path for growth and progress.
5. Negative feedback is great
If anyone knows what negative press is, that’s Elon Musk. But surprisingly, the founder of The Boring Company considers negative feedback very useful. He said, “Always seek negative feedback, even though it can be mentally painful.”
New entrepreneurs tend to fall in love with a business idea and expect positive comments from colleagues and friends to support their beliefs. Sure, no one wants to have their brilliant idea crushed, but if you want a clear perspective, you need to learn how to accept negative feedback. Or even ask for it.
Ask people around you to deliberately find flaws in your business model. If you’re able to stand up to their ‘attacks’ and defend it, then you’re probably on the right track. If not, use constructive criticism to revisit your business idea, discover new insights, and figure out how to improve it.
Counterintuitive strategies are the path rarely taken and, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide whether to follow them or not. Knowing that there are others who have passed through similar struggles and managed to get to the top may inspire you to leave your comfort zone and take the uncommon path to success.