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I'm a consultant and advisor  for social enterprises - using business to change the world.

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Outsmarted

Outsmarted

It’s a sticky 38-degree summer afternoon, and a foul smell has filled Renaissance IGA Supermarket.

Image: Don DeBold

Image: Don DeBold

As an employee arriving for the evening shift, it was deemed “your problem now” by the day staff, who then apologised for what I had to do:

 

It turns out, that of our 2,000+ cans of cat food, one was open.

Having festered in the heat all day, it was now producing a horrific force field that was distressing the customers.

The day staff had searched about 500 cans so far, leaving me with the next 1,500.

In the heat, the source was impossible to pinpoint, but I was suspicious that the smell was coming from the centre of the aisle.

 

One by one, I inspect each can, looking for the one without a lid. This should be straightforward.

However, after 30 minutes of searching, I couldn’t find the source, and was distinctly not becoming acclimatised to the stench.

Frustrated, I stood back in despair, looking up at the ceiling.

A fly was circling overhead, having also noticed the situation.

 

Then it hit me.

“zzzzz….zzzz”

I stood perfectly still for about 20 seconds.

The fly started circling closer and closer.

 

“zzzzzz…zzzzzZZZIP!”

All of a sudden, with pinpoint accuracy, the fly lands on the side of a can three rows back, in the middle of a stack.

On the inner rim of the can was a slit about 7mm in length. Almost invisible.

It was the culprit.

Image: kthypryn

Image: kthypryn

In my haste, I’d completely missed it – I’d been looking for a can without a lid. This was a can with a miniscule crack, and a very powerful smell.

I’d made a guess about what I was looking for, and my guess was wrong.

Even when I found the source of the problem, my mind was looking for something different, so it was overlooked.

That’s why I turned to a specialist, someone who had a much better detection system than me. Someone who loved cat food.

Sure enough, they isolated the source in seconds.

I’d been outsmarted by a fly.

 

 

That’s how I think about customers when we are designing a new business model – they’re hard to predict, but they know what they like.

If you follow their footsteps, they’ll lead you straight to the truth.

We can list a bunch of good ideas on a whiteboard, knowing that one of them is a winner. The problem is, to our untrained eyes, all ideas look the same.

We need a specialist, like our customers, to highlight what’s genuinely desirable.

 

That means temporary discomfort.

That means admitting that we don’t know everything.

That means potentially throwing out our favourite ideas.

 

But the alternative is worse. The alternative is that we stay in the stench, and complain that the task is impossible.

I’ll happily admit to being outsmarted by a fly, if it means the job gets done.

 

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